BY SAM SPOKONY | With less than two weeks to go before the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center is scheduled to be phased out of existence, it’s still unclear exactly what that transition will look like, or even if it will actually have to take place.
The command center, which was established in 2004 through executive orders issued by then-Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, oversees and coordinates all public and private construction projects worth more than $25 million that take place south of Canal St.
At the behest of local leaders, those orders were continued in 2011 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg, although the size of the command center’s staff has gradually dwindled over the years.
The organization, which over the years had received funding from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, currently employs only three full-time workers, along with six consultants, and its state-financed budget is about $1.8 million.
Now, the executive orders sustaining the command center are once again set to expire on Dec. 31. And if they are allowed to expire, oversight and coordination of 87 unfinished construction projects — including 1 World Trade Center, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, the Fulton Center transit hub and the four-year Broadway Reconstruction Project — will likely fall back entirely into the hands of city and state agencies.
Many at the community level see the center as a vital resource that has allowed them to stay informed about the major projects, as well as giving them a greater voice in regulatory matters and helping to generally keep the projects on track for timely completion.
In an October resolution, Community Board 1 called on Cuomo and Bloomberg to once again extend the center’s operations of for at least three years.
“The termination of L.M.C.C.C. would be devastating for residents, local businesses, property owners and developers,” the resolution stated.
But it seems likely that the termination will in fact take place.
In an interview following a C.B. 1 meeting on Dec. 16, Joseph Simenic, the command center’s executive director, said he has already spent the past several months planning for the phasing-out of his organization. The so-called transition plan ― which has also had input from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, as well as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office and those of the governor and mayor ― would allow for certain functions to be taken over by other existing agencies.
“I’m not especially concerned about it being a smooth transition, because I know it will be,” said Simenic.
However, he also said that the transition plan has not yet been finalized, and he added that it may not even be completed until the first week of January which would be a week after the center is officially terminated.
“We’re in ongoing negotiations with the city and state agencies, and we still need to figure out which agencies are going to take the lead,”said Simenic.
In addition, he pointed out that, even if the construction center has technically been terminated by the start of the New Year, his organization will still hold its regularly scheduled project coordination meeting ― at which information is received regarding construction permits and any updates on the Downtown projects on Jan. 7. And he stressed that those meetings will continue, in some form, after that, even if they are handled by other groups rather than his center.
“We know which functions need to continue,” said Simenic. “Obviously, project coordination needs to continue, and of course our community meetings which is where we take the information from the project coordination meeting and put that in terms that are meaningful to local businesses and residents need to continue as well.”
During Monday’s C.B. 1 meeting, board members expressed concern about the fact that even if those functions were to continue in a different form it will likely be more difficult for community members to have an open and effective dialogue with typical city and state agencies, such as the Buildings or Transportation Departments.
Simenic declined to disclose any specific details about the talks with the mayor’s and governors offices, or with the city and state agencies.
The Port Authority, which owns the W.T.C., was similarly tight-lipped about the situation in a prepared statement, saying only that it is“working with the governor’s office and Speaker Silver to finalize the plan.”
Cuomo’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
And for his part, Silver is still fighting for the continuation of the command center, holding out hope that new executive orders could be granted.
“L.M.C.C.C. is a vital resource for our community and I am advocating for its continuation,” Silver said in a Dec. 12 emailed statement.
In a November statement, Silver had specifically called on Cuomo and Bloomberg to renew their executive orders.
“Since our rebuilding began after 9/11, [the command center] has worked to ensure that the many ongoing construction projects in Lower Manhattan are safe and that steps are taken to mitigate their impact on the quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of people who live, work and visit this vibrant neighborhood,” Silver said in the November statement.
Simenic told Downtown Express on Monday that from his perspective — even though he has primarily been working on the transition plan — an option to continue the existence of L.M.C.C.C. is still on the table.
“I’ve been planning for two things,” he said, once of which is the transition plan, and the other of which is “a course of action that allows [L.M.C.C.C] to continue in some way, but in maybe a more condensed form.”
Simenic declined to say how likely he thought it was the center would continue.
And when asked what would have to happen for the center to continue — whether or not the lack of new executive orders is the only thing standing in the way of an extension ― Simenic was uncertain.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know that I have a clear answer to that question…I don’t have an easy answer to that question. What I can say is that I know that the negotiations for our transition are ongoing. And that’s all I can say about what’s going on with the mayor’s and governor’s office.”