Volume 19 Issue 46 | March 30 - April 5, 2007


Building a better construction center

There are two potential problems in Lower Manhattan’s immediate future. One is that the progress on the $20 billion or so worth of construction projects will stall. The other is it won’t.

With construction activity proceeding all over Lower Manhattan, the first possibility seems more theoretical at least for now — thankfully. This leads us to the second difficulty: How do we live and work through five more years of construction?

Gov. George Pataki had a good answer three and a half years ago when he proposed a Downtown construction center to coordinate activity in order to make the pending chaos more manageable for residents and businesses. Two years ago, he and Mayor Bloomberg appointed Charles Maikish to run the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center.

As we reported last week, there is growing dissatisfaction with the center from residents, small businesses and city officials — and that’s out of the select group of people who know the “L.M. triple C” exists. Many more Downtowners and visitors are unaware of an agency that was set up to help them wend their way through Lower Manhattan’s literal and figurative construction mazes.

We praised the appointment of Maikish in 2005, as did many others Downtown. We still think he has the experience and skills needed to run the center well. He made his mark running the World Trade Center for the Port Authority and he developed good working relationships with business, community and government leaders here. We were encouraged last week when he acknowledged to us missteps and pledged to improve the center’s communication. Admitting there is a problem is the first step.

We have already noticed an improvement. One business owner on Maiden Lane told us she heard from the construction center about more construction coming to the block. Once the new Fulton Transit Center under Maiden Lane is complete, these owners will suddenly have prime locations, but that’s only if they have the resources to stay in business through the next few years of construction. We’re told the city is working on a plan to provide financial assistance to businesses suffering near construction. We repeat our call for this help to come quickly.

The command center also needs to improve its Web site so important information is easily accessible, such as what construction is planned for particular streets and what are the air quality monitor readings at a particular location. The center needs better signs so more people know to contact them when things go wrong. Long-awaited plans to ease traffic and help pedestrians need to be completed soon.

Last year, the state Dept. of Transportation left dangerous intersections at the end of Route 9A after it finished a project because it thought city D.O.T. took care of turning on the new crosswalk signals. City D.O.T. of course thought it was the state’s responsibility. The L.M.C.C.C. can’t be blamed for not knowing about that problem, but had the thousands of people who cross the street every day known about the agency, the dangerous situation probably would not have lasted for many weeks.

Maikish and his team know they have to get better. There will be a lot more construction. Downtown is depending on them to make it more bearable.

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