downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 | Issue 25 | November 3 - 9, 2006

progress report/ c.b. 1

Cultural building shouldn't be delayed any longer

By Julie Menin

Fundraising for the World Trade Center Memorial recently received a tremendous boost when Mayor Bloomberg agreed to chair the W.T.C. Memorial Foundation board. With fundraising jumpstarted by recent donations by the mayor and by American Express of $10 million each, we must now also focus our attention on the Performing Arts Center.
Completion of the PAC, which is the only community enhancement planned for the W.T.C. site, is essential to the success of the master plan and the revitalization of Lower Manhattan. One need only look at the ways in which significant cultural components have helped to revitalize other cities.

In Los Angeles, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is not only the striking new home of the acclaimed Los Angeles Philharmonic, but has become a national cultural landmark and inspired commercial, retail and cultural redevelopment of the surrounding area.

In Miami Beach, a public commitment to the arts and the South Florida Arts Center sparked an arts resurgence. Later, a renovated Miami Beach Convention Center became the home of Art Basel, turning Miami and Miami Beach into an international cultural mecca.

In San Francisco, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and community leaders had the vision to create the cutting edge Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which along with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and other museums in the area have transformed and revitalized the formerly moribund Yerba Buena downtown area (in between the city's financial district and civic center neighborhoods.) As Newsweek magazine noted in 1995, Yerba Buena is now “the most concentrated arts district west of the Hudson River.”

Recently, representatives of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey indicated that while there are no current plans to use the site of the PAC as a staging center for the construction of the Freedom Tower, it will be used for at least the next four years for the temporary entrance and exit for the Santiago Calatrava-designed PATH station. As a result, construction of the PAC is not expected to commence before 2011, or the tenth anniversary of events of Sept. 11, 2001, and will not be completed for a number of years after that. All possible alternatives should be explored to find another location for the temporary entrance to the PATH station, which would not unduly delay the construction of the PAC. With office vacancy rates still hovering in the double digits, one can only imagine how a Lincoln Center style arts complex on the site would immediately serve as a catalyst to encourage more office tenants to locate Downtown.

Although the PAC represents a key element of Daniel Libeskind's master plan for the redevelopment of the W.T.C. site and surrounding areas in Lower Manhattan, it has been tragically overlooked so far. Last month, up to $55 million of federal money was allocated to the City of New York to provide funding for the ongoing planning, design, development and construction of the PAC. To support this initial seed money, outreach to large corporate foundations that have a long history of donating to the arts should commence as we should be approaching these foundations early before they make other long-term donations. It is imperative that fundraising and design development for this project commence immediately, whether under the aegis of the foundation or an independent and strongly committed board created for that purpose and with the goal of building the PAC as soon as possible.

The PAC was conceived as a calming transition between the bustle of commerce and the reflection and remembrance that will be inspired by the memorial and as a focal point inspiring the resurgence of arts in Lower Manhattan. This vital public mandate is essential to the revitalization of Lower Manhattan.

A true revitalization of Lower Manhattan need not only focus on the W.T.C. site however. Streets such as Nassau St. that are largely pedestrian, provide a unique opportunity to create an arts district where government incentives could be given to cultural uses (e.g. galleries, performing spaces.) While many of the retail spaces on Nassau St. tend to be small, there are striking similarities between some of those spaces and gallery spaces in Chelsea and Soho. A master plan Downtown could also include the Battery Maritime Building, which will serve as a portal to Governors Island, and the New Market Building, which had been used by the Fulton Fish Market.

With the residential population explosion Lower Manhattan is experiencing (making our neighborhood the fastest growing residential neighborhood in the city), it is critical that any cultural uses involve a component for children to provide educational and recreational opportunities for our youth. With the unacceptably overcrowded schools Downtown, any planned cultural uses must address this need.

We are now at a critical juncture in the planning for the W.T.C. site and the surrounding environs. It is time for this important lynchpin of the master plan to be realized.

Julie Menin is chairperson of Community Board 1 and is on the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation's board. She was a member of the jury that selected the W.T.C. memorial.

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