Volume 18 • Issue 31 | December 16 - 22, 2005

Bloomberg zeroes in on Downtown rebuilding, arts and living

By Josh Rogers

Mayor Mike Bloomberg is still happy living in his Upper East Side townhouse but the project that could tempt him to try Downtown living is the $50-million, box-shaped condos architect Santiago Calatrava is designing at the Seaport.

“If the Calatrava building is built — a magnificent piece of architecture — I’m not going to move Downtown, but boy you think about it,” Bloomberg told Downtown Express. “It would be spectacular.”

The mayor sat down Monday in his City Hall “Bullpen” office for an exclusive, 40-minute interview with the editors of Community Media L.L.C., owner of Downtown Express, The Villager and Gay City News.

Bloomberg minimized his differences in recent weeks with World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein and Gov. George Pataki, said the sensitivities from some 9/11 families and others about cultural institutions next to the proposed memorial should be extended to the entire W.T.C. site, and indicated that the developer will likely have an easier time finding tenants for Tower 2 than he will for the first office building where construction is expected to begin, the Freedom Tower.

“Larry thinks he’s close to renting a big chunk of number 7,” Bloomberg said referring to 7 W.T.C. across the street from ground zero, “and maybe even a tenant for all of number 2, which he is yet to build. Nobody hopes he does it more than I do…. He’s asked for incentives from the state and city — we’ve given him those, now he’s got to rent it.”

A few hours earlier, Bloomberg and Silverstein agreed to delay a city vote on the $3.35 billion in tax-free Liberty Bonds the developer wants in order to build five offices at the W.T.C.

The mayor did not refer directly to any problems Silverstein may have finding tenants to rent space in the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, where work is scheduled to start in April, but real estate executives and business leaders are worried that a high-profile building on West St., a block away from the W.T.C. train station under construction will be a harder sell than Tower 2, adjacent to the station.

“The conventional wisdom is that the towers on Church St. will be more easily rentable than the Freedom Tower,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a group made up of C.E.O.’s from the city’s largest firms. She said these buildings will have fewer security concerns.

Wylde agrees with the mayor’s push to insure the W.T.C. buildings are built simultaneously to avoid extended construction disruptions, and with his call to reconsider other uses besides offices. “Now that the Goldman Sachs deal is done, there’s much more flexibility on the use of the site,” she said referring to the investment bank’s project building its new headquarters catty-corner to the site.

The mayor said he’s not convinced 10 million square feet of office space is needed at the site. “I also have cautioned that we should take a look at the marketplace and see what the marketplace wants,” Bloomberg said. “We can’t just say ‘I know that we need this.’”

He has spoken of the need to consider housing or a hotel at ground zero. The mayor said the reason he appointed Bill Rudin, president of Rudin Management, a real estate firm, and Lawrence Babbio, president of Verizon, to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation board is because they know what the market needs.

Rudin, who also heads the Association for a Better New York, said in a telephone interview that he doesn’t think housing is needed at the site since there is plenty of residential construction in Lower Manhattan. “That 24/7 is already happening,” he said.

He said he thought large brokerage houses will be attracted to Tower 2 because they will be able to get a custom-made building with large floors. “The Freedom Tower is already designed — the floor plates are locked in,” Rudin said.

Silverstein and his architect, David Childs, began talking about building the site’s iconic tower closer to Church St., well before Daniel Libeskind’s site plan was selected by Pataki and Bloomberg in 2003. When Childs and Libeskind battled over the Freedom Tower’s design and location, Pataki sided mostly with Childs on the design and with Libeskind on placement.

Dara McQuillan, spokesperson for Silverstein Properties, said there has already been tenant interest for Tower 2, where construction is at least a year away from beginning, but he said that is also true at the Freedom Tower, where “surprisingly,” companies are most interested in renting out the building’s highest floors. Silverstein is planning to name the architect for Tower 2 Thursday.

On the Liberty Bonds, Janno Lieber, Silverstein’s senior vice president, said that the firm needs a commitment for all of the remaining bonds now to meet the mayor’s goal of constructing all of the buildings as quickly as possible. “Financing certainty on this entire project is going to expedite this entire project,” he said last week before the vote was delayed.
The developer released a statement Monday saying he was “disappointed” but remained “optimistic that we, the city and the state will come to resolution in the near future.”  

Gov. Pataki has maintained that the Liberty Bonds should be used at the W.T.C., a pledge the mayor has not made.

There is far from consensus Downtown as to whether it makes sense to commit all of the tax-free bonds to Silverstein now.

John Dellaportas, a Battery Park City resident who led the neighborhood fight to prevent a tunnel from being built near the W.T.C., said he wants to see building construction begin quickly and he’d like the mayor to get out of Silverstein’s way. “We are still left with a giant hole in the ground and none of the Liberty Bond money has been spent on the World Trade Center site proper,” he said.

But Community Board 1 has taken a more cautious approach to the bonds, endorsing much of the Bloomberg administration’s position that Silverstein must demonstrate a commitment to begin building as soon as W.T.C. sites are ready and that the city and state be empowered to call back the bonds if there are delays.

Bloomberg said “Liberty Bonds are government money, people’s money, and we should look to see what’s the best use of the people’s money. They are not owned by any one person nor should we preclude any one person.”

W.T.C. Culture and the Memorial

When 9/11 family groups led the successful fight in the fall to get two museums bounced from the area near the memorial, Bloomberg criticized the governor for superseding the L.M.D.C., a federally-funded state-city authority. But on Monday, the mayor said the same sensitivities that led to International Freedom Center and Drawing Center leaving the memorial quadrant should apply to the entire site.

“This is clearly not your average piece of property and different standards may very well apply on that site,” the mayor said, citing other exceptions to free speech such as jokingly shouting fire in a theater or prohibitions about what you can say in a courtroom.

He said curators could work on programming with people who understand the site’s importance. In response to whether government or an individual arts group could set this up, he said: “That’s to be worked out. There’s no easy answer to this. You want to have freedom of expression. There’s nobody willing to stand up for the arts more than I am, but I will say there is something different about this piece of property.”

When told of his remarks, Charles Wolf, whose wife died at the W.T.C., and Julie Menin, chairperson of C.B. 1, predictably, had opposite reactions.

“I think he’s pretty much hit it on the mark,” said Wolf, who has had concerns about the mayor’s views. He does not think an arts organization will be able to set up its own board to maintain the proper sensitivity. “You’re going to have to have somebody outside the organization set a standard.”

Menin, a new member of the WTC Memorial Foundation, which intends to raise money for the site’s memorial and cultural buildings, said “you are putting arts organizations in a difficult position if they are censored. You have to respect these organizations enough to know they are going to do what’s best.”

Costs for the memorial and related buildings are getting close to $1 billion, but Bloomberg said even if it doubles to $2 billion he won’t back away.

“It will cost a lot of money but that’s what the commission [the memorial jury] recommended….You can’t walk away from democracy because you don’t like the outcome,” he said.

But the Reflecting Absence memorial design by Michael Arad and Peter Walker is an outcome he likes. “Of the final designs I thought the Arad one was the best,” he said. “I liked the design. I thought it was very moving and beautiful.”

Mayoral temptings: Rendering of Santiago Calatrava’s stacked-box design for developer Frank Sciame’s condo project at 80 South St.

Fulton Fish Market

The mayor raved about the Calatrava building in response to a question about what he hopes to see replace the Fulton Fish Market, which moved to the Bronx last month. Bloomberg did not say what should replace the market, but was clear about what led to the failures of Seaport Marketplace, which General Growth Properties bought from Rouse Corp. last year. General Growth has the right to expand into the fishmongers’ area.

“Everybody thought that South Street Seaport would be the same as Faneuil Hall [in Boston] or Harbor Place in Baltimore — it is not and the reason is, New York has throughout all five boroughs all of these stores, all of the excitement, the entertainment and everything. Having one area of just trendy stuff doesn’t sell in New York because there is no need.”

Michael Piazzola, the Seaport mall’s senior general manager, said the mayor is right in a sense. “Every retailer in the world has discovered Manhattan. He’s right in saying the South Street Seaport has a lot of competition….The rest of Manhattan has caught up to the Seaport.”

Piazzola, who also ran the mall for Rouse, said General Growth is working on a master plan for the fish market area and is considering many different uses. The retail will be geared more toward residents and office workers while still appealing to tourists, rather than the other way around, he added.

Developer Frank Sciame, who is working with Calatrava on the cantilevered, box condos planned for 80 South St., was happy to hear about more neighborhood stores and even happier to get the mayor’s public endorsement for the condos priced between $29 million and $59 million.

“He’s been very supportive of the building,” said Sciame, who is hoping to land buyers before construction begins. “It’s a matter of time. What Park Ave. and Fifth Ave. were to the city in the 20th century, Lower Manhattan is going to be in the 21st century.”



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