Speakers say waterfront and housing are top priorities
By Josh Rogers
People said Wednesday that affordable housing and park improvements to the Hudson and East River waterfronts were the top priorities for the remaining post-9/11 funds.
Debates over the Lower Manhattan Development Corporations remaining money now estimated at $735 million have raged for two years and given that this was the only hearing for people to comment on the state-city agencys recently released guidelines for spending the money, the turnout was perhaps lighter than expected.
Only 49 people chose to speak at the hearing although others are submitting written comments until May 1. Only three members of the LM.D.C.s board of directors Carl Weisbrod, Bob Harding and Robert Balachandran showed up to hear the public directly along with Kevin Rampe, L.M.D.C. president.
Im so disappointed that theres not more board members here thats really disappointing, said Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York, an advocacy group that favors using most of the money for housing and job training program.
After speaking at the hearing at the Custom House, Damiani agreed the turnout was not big. This is what I expected given the level of public notice, she said. The L.M.D.C. did announce the hearing when it released the guidelines April 13, publicized it on its Web site, and advertised it.
Several members and staffers at Community Board 1 did attend and many of them testified that the remaining money should be used for the waterfront as well as for improvements to Fulton St. and the area south of the World Trade Center site called Greenwich St. South, and for a school and rec center.
Some people who testified said although the W.T.C. memorial is important, it should be paid for with private donations.
Monica Iken, whose husband was killed in the attack and who is raising money for the W.T.C. Memorial Foundation, said L.M.D.C. money will be needed.
The memorial needs to take precedence, she said in an interview immediately after the hearing. You cant solely rely on outside sources.
She and her foundation colleagues are raising $500 million, which will pay for part of the costs of the memorial and cultural buildings. She said the rhetoric that the memorial is the top priority does not match the reality. She thinks no more L.M.D.C. money should be spent until the financing for the memorial is secure.
Weisbrod, who in addition to his L.M.D.C. position is president of the Downtown Alliance, said he is hopeful memorial money will not be needed. In an interview last week, he said he favors using the money for high-impact projects that dramatically improve the quality of life in Lower Manhattan for workers, residents and businesses and help retain businesses for Downtown.
He thinks Greenwich St. South, the East River waterfront and pedestrian improvements to the Wall St. area best fit his criteria. The Greenwich St. plan includes decking over the entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to create space for a park, a parking garage for commuter buses and make it easier to walk in a car-centered section of Downtown. The L.M.D.C. is considering spending up to $125 million on this plan.
Rampe told the audience that the L.M.D.C. hoped to fund projects that couldnt get it otherwise. The L.M.D.C. should infrequently provide dollars of first resort but should instead offer dollars of last resort, he said.
Some speakers said under this reasoning, no money should go to a rail link between the W.T.C., J.F.K. Airport and the Long Island Rail Road, though a representative of Brookfield Properties Corp. and Jennifer Hensley, an assistant vice president at the Downtown Alliance, spoke in favor of the rail link. C.B. 1 also supports the link, but favors using the money that was saved by not building the West St. tunnel to help pay for part of the rail project rather than the L.M.D.C.s remaining money which is part of the federal Community Development Block Grant program.
Assemblymember Scott Stringer, a candidate for borough president, agreed with many of the speakers who wanted to use some of the money for affordable housing.
Councilmember Alan Gerson, the only other elected official to speak, said the guidelines should be changed so that operational expenses for 9/11-related health and emotional programs could be funded.
Children are still having nightmares, he said.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver submitted written testimony favoring several projects including money for the East and Hudson River waterfronts, a new school, to help Chinatown and for the rail link. Silver has previously expressed support for all of those projects although several months ago he said he did not think there would be enough L.M.D.C. money for the East River plan.