The PATH to rebuilding / Progress Report
Mostly signs of hope looking across the W.T.C.
By David Stanke
It is the predawn hours of a new day at the World Trade Center. After a long, dark night disturbed with nightmares and restless sleep, the first signs of preparation for a new day are appearing. But this dawn, foretold in sweetly delivered speeches about resiliency, determination and the American spirit, will not be the dawn of a sunny day. Resilience is not a white, pillowy cloud lifting us to ever greater heights. It is a mountain to be climbed that will test us all to the core. For the next year, we will climb with very little sense of progress or of the summit that justifies the climb.
At 3:00 a.m. two weeks ago, we were awoken by reality in the sound of a jack-hammer tearing apart the street a half block away. My wife was trying to catch a couple precious hours of sleep before an early morning flight. This intrusion exceeded our patience with the intermittent noise of recent weeks. The ensuing confrontation on the street evoked defenses from the construction crew. Somehow this is the city that never sleeps and even hey, this is about rebuilding the World Trade Center, incensed me. With help from Mayor Bloombergs 311 city service and the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, this construction project was shut down the next day for permit violations. Throughout the day, we have construction noise, blocked roads, and crowded walkways; but at night at least, we have sanity. For the next 10 years, our expectations of quality of life will be somewhat lowered.
For many of us, the eventual product of reconstruction has been the carrot that makes life as neighbors of the W.T.C. tolerable. It is the inspiration of new buildings, new parks, and restored retail that make the despair of the pit tolerable. For some time, the promise of words was important. But in the last year, words have lost power. They have been repeated too often without a back up in real word progress. Finally, there are signs of resilience and life at the W.T.C., beyond those weeds that have tenaciously taken hold in the quiet corners across the site.
The projects underway in my immediate neighborhood are impressive. To the north on the W.T.C. site, the Port Authority has begun staging for the permanent Calatrava designed PATH Station with associated retail. To the northeast, the M.T.A. has started work on the transit hub on Broadway and Fulton St., reaching to the eastern side of the W.T.C. To the east, Brookfield Properties is rebuilding the one block park that was the mortuary for the W.T.C. recovery effort. Two blocks to the south, a building has been removed and the lot prepared for a new 30-story residential building. To the west, scaffolding envelops the infamous Deutsche Bank building in preparation for deconstruction. And back to the north, a window washing platform methodically scales the elegant new World Trade Center 7 in preparation for its imminent opening. Around this neighborhood every street corner and every block has signs of construction.
Taken together, the product of these efforts will be an inspiring restoration of the neighborhood. Each delivers enhancements to our pre-9/11 existence: more convenient transportation, better infrastructure, better office space, removal of eyesores, more neighbors and livelier streets. Just as the nation finally notices that progress has been too slow, real progress is taking hold.
My excitement about the future is tempered only by real risks that remain. Resiliency and restoration require political will, economic resources and disciplined decision making. Shortcomings in these areas have caused the lack of progress to date. Fissures in these foundations still threaten the future.
On the political front, the next year will see the transition from Governor Pataki to Mayor Bloomberg as the chief driver of the site. While Bloomberg has the political will and capital to move redevelopment forward, his initial pre-election musings are cause for alarm. For no apparent reason he has challenged the office plan which could take progress back years. His first mistake was to challenge the right of Silverstein Properties to be the sole commercial developer on the site. A change in developer would only delay construction, possibly at great cost to the public. Silverstein has demonstrated heroic patience and flexibility around an absurd planning and design process. We need Silverstein as the engine pushing real progress forward. Changing engines would be a disaster.
Bloombergs comments on specifics of the site plan demonstrate his distance from the needs of Downtown. A year ago, he was talking about building 30 million square feet of office space on the far West Side, far from existing transportation. Now, he fears that the city will not absorb 10 million square feet of space on one of its premier transit hubs. Instead, hes considering residential development and schools. We can only hope that these were pre-election musings and that he will now move forward with the plan that is in place which is executable and economically viable.
The fuel needed for the majority of the site comes from Silversteins insurance proceeds and the remaining $3.5 billion of Liberty Bonds. Mayor Bloomberg has considered redirecting Liberty Bonds to other projects and other developers. Pull these funds, and the W.T.C. will have to rise on fumes. Dedicate them now and the site will charge forward.
Funding for the memorial and cultural components of the site will be difficult. In the next year, we will have to accept that memorial development will be delayed. Memorial costs have risen from $500 million to more than $800 million. Down the road, based on limits of human planning capability and complexity of the memorial mega-complex, Id guess that the cost will top $1 billion. The fund raising effort is unlikely to ever achieve this excessive bill. Expect the cultural components to go unfunded. Excessive demands by small groups of family members have not been challenged. We have perpetuated the notion that for anything 9/11, cost is no object. There are many possible resolutions but based on past decision making, expect to volunteer more of your tax dollars.
So where do we stand four years after 9/11? The signs of construction are at last visible everywhere. But benefits from any of these projects, or even visible evidence of future facilities, is still years away. And while a workable site plan is in place, it is under attack on a number of fronts. The political will to hold the plan together has fissures and there are financial issues not yet being honestly acknowledged. Our reality is an environment of noise, dust and inconvenience with no promise of immediate benefit and large risks of ongoing delays.
The words of politicians echo in my thoughts, the need for determination and resilience. For speakers, these are only words, too easy to repeat at photo opportunities. For those of us who live in the area, they are pieces of the character that we will need to develop. As I look out my front window at 16 empty acres and see the first rays of light of the new day, knowing full well the issues ahead, I am once again excited about the future of this city. We have at last left the base camp, and are heading for a summit we cannot see. For the next year, our happiness will be determined by our ability simply to enjoy the hike.
David Stanke, who lives across the street from the World Trade Center, is the co-president of BPC United, a Lower Manhattan residential group.