Volume 18 • Issue 30 | December 9 - 15, 2005

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein, left, shared a laugh with John Whitehead, chairperson of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., at a groundbreaking ceremony last week for the Goldman Sachs building under construction catty-corner to the W.T.C. site.

Silverstein bond fight creates new friends and foes

By Josh Rogers

Maybe it’s time to update the cliché. World Trade Center politics makes strange bedfellows.

The push by Larry Silverstein to get the remaining $3.35 billion in tax-free Liberty Bonds immediately so he can begin to build five offices at the site, has reshuffled the deck of allies and foes at the W.T.C. Consider:

*The mayor’s office and the Port Authority, which continue to argue over the site’s retail and street plan, seem to agree on getting Silverstein to make more commitments before letting him have all of the bonds and develop the entire site.

*Carl Weisbrod, a Downtown business leader, and Bettina Damiani, an advocate with Good Jobs New York, which has continually criticized the dominance of big business interests in the rebuilding efforts, now agree that there should be no hurry to grant all of the bonds to Silverstein now.

*Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has agreed with Weisbrod on almost every post-9/11 matter Downtown, disagrees this time and thinks Silverstein should get most, if not all of the money now. Silver is pretty much on the same side with his number one foe in Albany, Gov. George Pataki.

“I don’t think we need to commit all of the Liberty Bonds now,” Weisbrod, former president of the Downtown Alliance who heads Trinity Church’s real estate division, said in a telephone interview. Most of the sites are a few years away from being ready to be rebuilt and there is no reason to rush the allocation, particularly since Silver was able to get Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Pataki to pledge not to use any more bonds in Midtown, Weisbrod said. There is a pressing need to build the W.T.C. stores on Church St., Weisbrod added, and $400 million of Liberty Bonds could be used for retail spaces.

Congress approved $8 billion in tax-free bonds for New York City after 9/11 and has since extended the expiration date until 2009. One reason the city is pressing Silverstein is officials don’t want to lose the bonds if Silverstein is not ready to build all of the buildings in 2009.

“Silverstein, one developer, might do things consecutively whereas multiple developers might do things concurrently,” Bloomberg said at a press conference Wednesday. “I don’t know if that’s the way it would turn out…. You don’t want a construction site going on for the next 15 years.”

The developer used to say his plan was to rebuild one W.T.C. office every two years, but in a prepared statement Wednesday, Silverstein said “construction cannot proceed until government finishes excavating and otherwise preparing those sites for development.  According to government’s own timetable, the sites for towers three, four and five will not be turned over until mid-2008 at the earliest….

“We remain confident that our Liberty Bond application will be approved and that we can all work together to accomplish what the people of this City and State want and deserve – a rebuilt World Trade Center site.”

The Port Authority must build a slurry wall on Church St. before Towers 3 and 4 can be built and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation must dismantle the contaminated Deutsche Bank building before construction could begin at the Tower 5 site on Liberty St.

Silver, who has remained steadfast in his support of Silverstein, said the remaining bonds are not too much more than the costs of building the Freedom Tower — where construction is supposed to begin in a few months — and Tower 2 at the corner of Church and Vesey Sts. — where construction could be ready to commence in a year.

“If he’s ready to go on the Freedom Tower, he should get that,” Silver said in a telephone interview. “If he’s ready to go on number 2, he should get that. I’m not sure there’s a lot [of money] left after that.” 

Silverstein’s application to the city is to use the money to help pay for all five building sites. The city and Port Authority are not likely to support a plan in which all of the bonds are used on just two buildings. The New York Times reported that the Port Authority wants Silverstein to back away from developing the last three commercial sites.

Officials with the Port declined to comment on the use of Liberty Bonds on the W.T.C., which they own, or on negotiations with Silverstein. A spokesperson for Silverstein said he had no comment beyond the developer’s statement.

Negotiations between all of the parties continues and the city’s Industrial Development Agency may vote on the bonds at its next meeting, Tues., Dec. 13.

Pataki said everyone is working cooperatively and that Silverstein “has very clear rights to those properties, and as we work together we’ve had deadlines that have been very difficult for him to meet and he has met them.”

Community Board 1’s World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee passed a resolution Wednesday, which would support Silverstein’s receiving the bonds under two conditions: that he demonstrate he could begin building as soon as the sites were physically ready and that the bonds could be called back and redistributed if he failed to meet the first condition.

Julie Menin, the community board’s chairperson, said committee members consulted with experts before coming up with the resolution and she think the conditions could meet the city and Port’s understandable concerns.

“We felt strongly there should be a set of standards and benchmarks,” she said.

But not everyone wants to proceed with the current office plan – Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor and former C.E.O., and Damiani, the advocate who denounces corporate subsidies, to name two.

The mayor said it took 13 years to fill up the Twin Tower offices and 20 years to get market rents. On Wednesday, he repeated his call to consider mixed uses at the site.

He didn’t sound too different than Damiani the day before. “We’re going to use public money to build offices where there are no tenants,” she said.

With reporting by Ronda Kaysen


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