Downtown’s dollars are needed for education, small businesses

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s announcement last week that it had almost $200 million left and that it was finally going to be creating a long-ago-promised community enhancement fund was great news.

First, the enhancement fund seemed in doubt a month ago when L.M.D.C. board members said it was gone and agency staffers said nothing to indicate otherwise. Second, the fund has grown from $45 million to somewhere between $67- $77 million. Third the agency has found additional money from other projects.

Before the agency spends its last dollars and closes its doors, it must take a hard look at the most important priorities Downtown and ensure the money is spent to have the greatest effect.

That said, perhaps the highest priority in Lower Manhattan can’t be solved with L.M.D.C. money. We are as disturbed as everyone by the recent reports on post-9/11 health effects, but only Washington has the resources and responsibility to provide the health care for Downtown workers and residents who get sick because of 9/11.

A huge chunk of the remaining L.M.D.C. money should be spent on education and to help small businesses get through the next few years when construction projects will make it difficult for many of them to stay afloat.

Lower Manhattan remains the fastest growing part of the city and it seems clear that the new K-8 and P.S. 234 school annex planned will not be enough. A school in the World Trade Center Tower 5 site is the best location and as of now, it looks like a zoned middle school is the most pressing need. Even if a community school were not needed Downtown, we would still be recommending some sort of an education center there (perhaps a university facility) because the new W.T.C. would be incomplete without it. A school should be an essential component – along with the memorial, the arts building (yes, it should have been buildings, plural), the train center, and offices.

But the community does need a school so there is no reason to think of a facility to attract students from far away. There are students right here. The city should be studying the population growth numbers and consulting with Downtowners about the best type of school to build.

There are hundreds of small businesses which can’t wait for such deliberate planning. They are struggling now to make it in places like the area near the Fulton Transit Center construction project or Greenwich St. South, which is isolated by the closed W.T.C. site. These hardworking business owners are in locations that one day will be desirable, but now are financial drains.

They need short-term financial help and the L.M.D.C. should provide it. About $30 million of the agency’s remaining money comes from funds targeted to help small businesses that was never used. Now it can prevent more businesses from closing.

We understand the desire to spread the remaining money around to lots of small and worthy organizations and projects, but we see a danger in nibbling away at the money when large bites for education and small businesses would do more for Lower Manhattan.

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