City D.O.T. will take over Downtown construction center

BY SAM SPOKONY  (ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JAN. 23, 2014 ) |   After some initial uncertainty, it’s now become clear that the city’s Department of Transportation will take over the roles currently filled by the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, once the command center is dissolved at the end of February.

Nicholas Mosquera, a D.O.T. spokesperson, confirmed on Jan. 22 that the city agency will soon take the reins from L.M.C.C.C., which oversees and coordinates public, private and street construction projects south of Canal St.

“The D.O.T. has always been closely involved with the work of the L.M.C.C.C. and will be assuming their role in the community outreach process,” Mosquera wrote in an email to Downtown Express, adding that D.O.T. will also host and conduct project coordination meetings once the command center is phased out of existence.

The command center, which was established in 2004 through executive orders issued by ex-Governor George Pataki and ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has been working on this transition for several months, ever since it became apparent that those executive orders would not be renewed by the end of 2013.

In addition to the uncertainty over which city agency would take the lead in its absence, it was also for some time unclear when exactly the center would shut its doors. First, it seemed like the command center might not make it into 2014, and then a last-ditch effort by local elected officials allowed it to remain in operation through the first several weeks of January.

Now, the date of dissolution finally seems to be set.

“I’m planning to hand everything off by the end of February,” said Joseph Simenic, L.M.C.C.C.’s executive director, in a Jan. 22 phone interview.

He explained that it made sense to let D.O.T. take the lead going forward because, in addition to its constant presence at L.M.C.C.C.’s current coordination meetings, the agency already plays such a central role in construction due to its regulatory power over the permitting process.

Simenic also said that he is already in the process of providing D.O.T. with his agency’s contact database, as well as explaining how to go about doing public outreach Downtown.

“D.O.T. has watched us do it, and now it’s just a matter of coaching them,” he said.

After 9/11, the Bloomberg administration  set up D.O.T.’s Lower Manhattan borough commissioner’s office to help coordinate the massive amounts of repair and construction work underway Downtown, and the current head of the office, Luis Sanchez, has remained in office under Mayor de Blasio.

For its part, D.O.T. is expecting a smooth transition — although officials have not yet decided the details of how it will work.

“D.O.T. will continue to work closely with all relevant agencies and the community at large, as it does across the city, and we don’t foresee any effect on the coordination and outreach processes that Lower Manhattan has benefitted from in recent years,” said Mosquera.

Meanwhile, Robin Forst, who currently serves as deputy executive director of L.M.C.C.C., already has a new job lined up.

Starting on Feb. 3, Forst will join the Battery Park City Authority as its vice president of external relations. That move was announced by B.P.C.A. Chairperson Dennis Mehiel on Jan. 13.

In a Jan. 22 phone interview, Forst told Downtown Express she will still make herself available to L.M.C.C.C. throughout February in order to aid in its transition process.

“I’m happy to work on whatever shape this transition takes,” she said, “and I’ll do anything I can to help make sure it’s smooth, in terms of moving L.M.C.C.C. from where it is now to where it has to go.”

A longtime Battery Park City resident, Forst has been with the command center since 2005, before which she had served as former-Councilmember Alan Gerson’s deputy chief of staff.

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