Judgment needed on remaining Liberty Bond projects

The $8 billion Liberty Bond program is in danger of becoming synonymous with the phrase “9/11 boondoggle” unless state and city officials start giving more thought to the projects it allows the bonds to be used for.

The well-intentioned plan was approved last year primarily as a mechanism to encourage Lower Manhattan’s development and recovery after the Sept. 11 attack. Passed at the insistence of New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, the interest-free bonds have been used for some worthy projects.

Since the bonds if fully used will cost U.S. taxpayers $1.2 billion over 10 years, it is important, as this page has stated before, that the bonds be used not simply to subsidize luxury housing, but some other goals in addition, such as historic preservation or affordable housing. We have pointed out instances where the bonds have been put to good use such as in the South St. Seaport where developers Frank Sciame and Richard Berry are using the bonds to restore historic and neglected properties.

But as more and more of these Liberty Bond applications are submitted, we are becoming more disturbed by the program. We have yet to see an application to build apartment buildings with affordable units in more than five percent of the homes. Twenty percent is more like it.

The city has talked a better game about affordable housing than the state, but since Mayor Bloomberg’s housing speech last December, we have seen too little action. In fact, with I.P.N.’s new owner seeking to pull the 1300 apartment complex out of the Mitchell Lama program, active backsliding on the affordable housing front is taking place in Lower Manhattan.

We recognize that affordable housing and preservation are not the only justifications for Liberty Bonds. In some sections of Downtown, such as the area immediately south of the World Trade Center, the bonds may be the best hope for adding residential development. But in other parts of Downtown, the use of the bonds would be dubious.

Developer Scott Resnick has applied for $200 million in city Liberty Bond money to build on prime residential real estate behind Tribeca’s P.S. 234. The proposed 360-foot building would almost certainly cast shadows on Washington Market Park. Given the strong opposition to the development in the neighborhood, it would be unconscionable if this project proceeds with public subsidies.

It is up to the governor and mayor to hold the current crop of Liberty Bond projects up to higher standards, and it is up to Schumer and Clinton to begin fighting for whatever portion of the $1.2 billion that is not used to support the bonds. If all of the bonds are not used, which appears to be a possibility, the unused taxpayer money that has already been committed, by all rights, should be redirected to other programs to help Downtown rebuild from the 2001 attack on America.

Ferry pollution
There is no question the growth of the ferry industry has been an important component of the development of Lower Manhattan, pre- and post-9/11. Ferries are a fast, relatively cheap way to increase commuter links Downtown and have helped the area cope with the fact that there has not been a new rail or subway service built for Lower Manhattan in oh, six or seven decades. Ferries are also a less polluting alternative to cars or diesel bus traffic.

But they do cause pollution — a fact driven home in the last few weeks as a new temporary ferry barge opened near Battery Park City’s Rockefeller Park. The permanent terminal to be built south of the park is two years away. In the meantime, we urge New York Waterway to expedite its conversion to more fuel-efficient boats and to make a greater effort to run fewer of its dirtier boats to B.P.C. The Port Authority must honor its promise to do air quality tests near the park promptly, and to monitor, and report on, the numbers of clean and dirty boats using the temporary terminal. And the Battery Park City Authority must use its influence and its “green” credentials to pressure Waterway and the P.A. to keep the neighborhood park as clean and enjoyable as possible.


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