Volume 18 • Issue 23 | October 21 - 27, 2005

Frustration mounts over 4-year,‘hole in the ground’

By Ronda Kaysen

Community Board 1 members lashed out at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation at a public meeting Monday night, voicing frustration with the pace of the redevelopment of the World Trade Center and the attention given to public opinion.

Multiple setbacks continue to hamper the Downtown redevelopment process, including the Freedom Tower, which was redesigned in the spring for security reasons, the new Goldman Sachs headquarters, which was scrapped in April only to be revived four months later, and most recently, the governor’s decision to nix a museum from the redevelopment after intense criticism from some victims’ family members.

More than four years after the Sept. 11 attacks on the W.T.C., only one tower — 7 W.T.C. — is anywhere near completion.

“We’re sitting here four years after 9/11 with a hole in the ground,” said board member Bill Love at the Oct. 18 W.T.C Redevelopment Committee meeting. “There’s been lots of slippage from what we were told was going to happen.”

The “perception” of a glacial redevelopment process is “simply not true,” insisted Michael Haberman, an L.M.D.C. vice president. “We want to do this quickly, we also want to do this right. There are some people who say the rebuilding is actually happening too quickly, I’m not saying L.M.D.C. shares that view, but I have heard that view.”

Robin Forst, the community liaison for Charles Maikish, head of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, echoed Haberman’s comments. “From a factual standpoint, we are on schedule,” she said.

Several major projects have been radically reconfigured in recent months and their construction dates revised, however. “It’s not accurate to say that everything is on schedule,” said board member Barry Skolnick.

“It’s the planning process that seems to be fractured and abandoned,” said board member Ray O’Keefe.

Governor George Pataki’s Sept. 28 decree to remove the International Freedom Center, a museum created specifically for the W.T.C., from the master plan lies at the heart of the board’s frustration.

The museum would have considered the international struggle for freedom in a global context. Its content had become the focus of intense scrutiny by some victims’ family members who convinced Pataki to reserve the southwestern quadrant of the 16-acre site exclusively for the memorial. Another museum, the Soho-based Drawing Center, was also forced from the 4.9-acre memorial quadrant, leaving the Snohetta-designed cultural center largely vacant. The memorial museum will likely occupy more space in the cultural center, a decision made without the input of the community.

Pataki announced his decision 45 minutes before the start of a C.B. 1 meeting where the Freedom Center would have presented its content ideas for public comment. The meeting would have been the first opportunity for the local community to weigh in on the museum or the contentious issue.

“We asked for three months to have a presentation and we were told repeatedly that that could not happen,” said board chairperson Julie Menin. “We should have been given a chance to give that input and that is what was circumvented and that is what is so distressing about this.”

“We were bypassed,” said board member Marc Donnenfeld. “Clearly the master plan has changed and we weren’t consulted for any of those changes. I have concerns that this is going to be a mausoleum rather than a vibrant center that celebrates life as well as honors death.”

In July, several board members advocated a resolution insisting the L.M.D.C. honor master plan. The master plan laying out the redevelopment of the W.T.C was approved in Feb. 2003 and readjusted last year. “We need to take a stand that whatever the institution, it not be subject to a debate to change the master plan,” said board member Anthony Notaro. “It’s important we go on the record saying that.”

In a foreshadowing of the governor’s September move, board member Love said at the time, “It’s really important that we push back really hard on this because there’s a chance that they [Freedom Center opponents] could succeed. They’ve got the governor behind them.”
But at the time, many board members were reluctant to go on the record about the controversy. “I don’t think we should put anything political” into a resolution, board member Albert Capsouto said.

“I really don’t want something in [a resolution] from the community board to be discussing what sorts of cultural institutions are in” the cultural center, said Skolnick.

In the end, the board chose not to draft a resolution about the cultural center until after the Freedom Center presentation, which never happened.

The board’s silence apparently had consequences. “Virtually every comment we got regarding the I.F.C. was to remove the I.F.C., there was no formal viewpoint from the board,” said Haberman at the Oct. 18 meeting.

To some extent, the board was preaching to the choir. L.M.D.C. board members rebuked the governor for his Freedom Center decision earlier this month, voicing frustration with Pataki, who appointed half of the board members. Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed the other members.

L.M.D.C. chairperson, John Whitehead, a Pataki appointee, criticized the governor for sidestepping the public process. “In all candor, I must report that most of our board, including its chairman, were quite distressed that a process which we had established two years ago with full public approval was not allowed to work its way through to conclusion,” Whitehead said at the Oct. 6 meeting, according to The New York Times.

Pataki undermined the L.M.D.C.’s role as the leader of the redevelopment, board members suggested. “There’s no question that the L.M.D.C. has been deeply wounded here,” said Roland Betts, another Pataki appointee.

C.B. 1 members acknowledged the L.M.D.C.’s response, calling it “bold and just,” said Donnenfeld. However, they ultimately drafted two resolutions criticizing the agency and the governor, one criticizing the slow process and the other deploring the lack of attention to public input.

Pataki’s “peremptory eviction” of the Freedom Center “makes a mockery of the public review process,” the resolution reads, calling the action “unilateral.”

The resolution reads, “The interests of local residents and workers and the Downtown community as a whole are being ignored as the redevelopment process has become increasingly politicized.”



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