New Port chief addresses audit, W.T.C. in exclusive interview

Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Patrick Foye, former deputy secretary for economic development for State Governor Andrew Cuomo, took the helm last fall as executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, owner of the World Trade Center and construction manager of parts of the site. In an exclusive interview with the Downtown Express on Thursday, March 15, Foye spoke about the recent financial audit of the agency and all things W.T.C. 

BY Aline Reynolds

How is the recent audit of the Port Authority affecting your daily decision-making about the agency’s future?
The short-term answer is, since I arrived, I have put a number of financial and operating checks and balances in place that didn’t exist beforehand, and that’s to make sure that there is greater accountability and transparency on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis. Obviously, the report uncovered and revealed a poorly coordinated capital planning process, inadequate cost controls and less-than-ideal transparency and oversight. On a more long-term basis, we are in the midst of a Phase II review [for which] we are going to go through a rigorous review of all our capital spending in every one of our line businesses.

How do you plan to secure funding moving forward from the different W.T.C. parties to help ensure that the Port averts cost overruns in the future?
Since I got here on Nov. 7, I’ve been focused… on making sure the Port Authority is in a position to collect every dollar of revenue that has been promised to us. We’re not going to be advancing funds or spending funds unless they’ve been approved as required by the Board of Commissioners here, and where there is solid documentation that clearly sets out our obligations and the obligations of our counter-parties.

But how are you going to make sure the parties hold to their financial commitments moving forward?
We are systematically going through the list of third-party stakeholders, [and] we’re in discussions [with them] to clarify and firm up their obligations and commitments to pay the Port Authority.

Is there any sign of a resolution of the financial dispute with the National Sept. 11 Memorial Foundation? Have you spoken to Governor Cuomo or Mayor Mike Bloomberg about the matter?
I have been in personal touch with the City’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel and spoke with [9/11 Memorial President] Joe Daniels about the issue last week. Steel and I have been talking and meeting regularly, and I think it’s fair to say that we’re both committed to resolving this in good faith. We’ve [already] made significant progress, and I’m optimistic that we’re going to come to a negotiated settlement.

But do you have any idea what the resolution will look like? We know there’s $150 million swinging in both directions…
I’d like to limit the comment to [the aforementioned statements]. I think that both we and the City have not negotiated this in the media, and I want to continue that policy.

Is there a new completion date for the 9/11 Memorial Museum?
[For an answer to that] question, I think you should refer to the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

Do you have an update on Three W.T.C. — is there any prospect of getting the building beyond the seven-story retail podium? And if W.T.C. developer Larry Silverstein is able to secure a tenant for the building, will the Port be in a position to meet its obligation to back the Tower financially
I’m optimistic on New York City, I’m optimistic on Downtown, and I think the progress that we’ve made in leasing One W.T.C. kind of speaks for itself. There’s a significant component of the Class A office space inventory in the City of New York that’s 50 or more years old, and there are a number of large tenants that, in the next several years, are going to be looking for significant blocks of space. Larry’s success at Three W.T.C. is good for City, the State [and] the Port Authority. If Larry is able to hit those thresholds, and we’re rooting for him, the Port Authority’s fully committed to honoring the obligations it has in full.

We’ve recently reported on the Port’s plans to absorb the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. What’s the latest on that
The latest is, we’re working more closely with the L.M.D.C. since Gov. Cuomo made that announcement… and I think there’s a greater level of coordination between the L.M.D.C. and the Port Authority and the City.

Could you be more specific on the time frame of this?
I think that closer collaboration and cooperation is underway and is going to occur in the months ahead.

Will the L.M.D.C. be moved out of One Liberty Plaza and into Port Authority offices?
There’s no plan to do that right now.

What’s going on with the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center? Are the staff layoffs and the agency’s move to the Port’s offices set to happen by the month’s end, as we were told?
In the coming months, the L.M.C.C.C.’s going to be consolidating its space and operations at 115 Broadway, which is where the Port Authority’s W.T.C. offices are located. We’ve been asked for about 11 offices [for the remaining employees]… and we’re going to accommodate that. [In addition to the four remaining employees,] there are also a number of consultants both on the real estate and environmental sides. Even today, the number of consultants doing that work outweighs the number of the L.M.C.C.C. [core] staff, and there has been no change in the consultants.

But to clarify, will the L.M.C.C.C. remain an independent entity?
Yes. We’re not absorbing the L.M.C.C.C. — it’s going to continue to have separate staff. We made decisions that in areas like administrative support and webmasters, the L.M.C.C.C. could continue its work but do so in a manner that was more cost-efficient and cost-effective. For instance, we made a decision together with the L.M.C.C.C. that having a separate webmaster… at this point in its history didn’t make sense, and that we had the ability to combine not only real estate but staffing, and do so to allow the L.M.C.C.C. to fulfill its mission and its responsibilities [and] to save the relevant taxpayers some money.

Many Downtown community members firmly believe it is not time for the L.M.C.C.C. to sunset, but your predecessor Chris Ward advocated for it. What is your take on this, and when will the agency be folded?  
I don’t have a specific date. I think there’s clearly going to be a day where the L.M.C.C.C. will have completed its work and satisfied its mission, and that’ll be appropriate. That’s not today… and that’s a decision we’re going to make in consultation and collaboration with the City. We’re aware and respectful of the community’s views.

Moving on to 130 Liberty: Is the site officially under the Port’s control?
There has been no official transfer. I think it requires… execution of some documents, and approval, as I understand it, by the L.M.D.C. board — so that’ll be activity for the months ahead.

What are the short- and long-term plans for the 130 Liberty site?
We think that the site is an extraordinarily valuable one, and that over the years ahead, aspiration of future uses for the site — which could include mixed-use, office, residential, hotel, [and] perhaps some retail — are appropriate. [But] those aren’t decisions that have to be reached now. We’re going to be and have been talking with both the City and the L.M.D.C. on those issues.

How is the W.T.C. redevelopment going, in your opinion, both in terms of construction and leasing?
I think we’re beginning to approach the point at which… you can see completion on the near horizon. [One] W.T.C. happily is at the 93rd floor today. I’ve been at the site twice this week, and I’ll be again at the W.T.C. site later today. For a building that’s going to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year or the first quarter of 2013, we’re approximately 55 percent leased, with a number of other prospects in the pipeline. [Meanwhile,] steel is going up on the W.T.C. Transportation Hub and the Oculus building, and significant progress is being made there as well.

How will the Port’s review and changes to its management structure affect the agency’s role in redeveloping the W.T.C.?
We are going to honor in letter and spirit every commitment that has been made to Downtown and to Downtown stakeholders. The decision to develop the W.T.C. was made by two governors a long time ago: Governor Nelson Rockefeller in the ‘60s and Governor George Pataki following the murderous events of 9/11. And we don’t quarrel with either of those decisions, but I think going forward, we’re going to be taking a rigorous look at our capital plan in total. We’re going to be more focused on our core mission, which is transportation infrastructure serving the region. I think it’s fair to say that it’s unlikely that the Port Authority is going to be pursuing real estate development like this any time soon [since] it’s not our core mission. Government is not a natural or particularly gifted real estate developer.

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