Time to slow down and speed up
This week the talk has been about the Freedom Tower planning crisis, the setbacks and delays. In our view, the tower situation is not as dire as some have suggested. It is important to keep in mind what is critical and what is not.
The good news is that Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Mike Bloomberg have renewed their focus on Lower Manhattan rebuilding where it should be. The pair met Wednesday with World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and others to come to an understanding about how to solve the security problems of building the 1776-foot tower too close to traffic. The group emerged confident and the plan is to come up with a new preliminary design for the Freedom Tower in a few weeks. The rush to come up with a new design so quickly seems misguided.
Some things in the Downtown planning have urgency and others dont. Redesigning the tower is in the second category. While it is discouraging that we are still looking at a pit in the ground three and a half years later, right now the bigger problem is there is no demand for more office space Downtown. Improving transportation to Lower Manhattan is the most efficient way to solve it. Silversteins 7 W.T.C. is almost finished and has no signed leases.
The security concerns and sagging commercial market provide opportunities to rethink parts of the W.T.C. master plan. The Santiago Calatrava train station is the one piece of the plan that the public has responded to and we hope to see construction begin on schedule in a few months. The memorial, although not universally loved, clearly will be in the area of the Twin Tower footprints and it would be a fools mission to go back to the drawing board and start a new memorial design process. Many of the objections to the design have the potential to be resolved over time as family members and officials meet and search for consensus as to the best way to display the 2,800 names of those who were killed.
The memorial and Calatrava station could be seen as the anchors to the plan as officials bring the public back into the process to see if there is a better way to place the office and cultural buildings. This does not mean that the master plan failed. Master plans almost always need to be adjusted. Suggestions to put cultural space in office buildings, for example, should be examined rather than dismissed out of hand. These buildings are being built to last for more than a century and it makes sense to take the time to look at other possibilities and make sure all reasonable security protections are in place.
Meanwhile, there needs to be more urgency in getting the money for a rail connection between Downtown, J.F.K. Airport and the Long Island Rail Road. Sen. Chuck Schumer warned this week that the chance to get $2 billion in unused tax credits that Congress targeted to help Lower Manhattan transferred to the rail project will be lost if we dont move faster on the plans. Downtowns business dominance has been on a slow but steady decline for decades as the area has had to make do without new rail service. It is critical the governor and mayor focus on convincing their Republican friends in the House to approve the tax transfer for the rail line.
We are happy to see the return of the planning urgency Downtown and wed like to see it directed where it is needed most the memorial, Calatrava station, the rail link, and most importantly, in security.