Volume 19 Issue 47 | April 6 - 12, 2007

Split of W.T.C. arts draws questions, concern and hope

By Skye H. McFarlane

And then there was one. Once slated to house four cultural institutions in two separate buildings, the cultural site at the rebuilt World Trade Center will now host just a single tenant, according to Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff.

In 2005, the planned cultural center was cut in half after 9/11 family members raised concerns about having the International Freedom Center and the Drawing Center so close to the memorial. Now, due to long delays and surging costs, the city is cutting the remaining cultural component on the site in half.

Doctoroff told the New York Times on March 27 that the cost of building the Frank-Gehry-designed performing arts center, slated to sit on Greenwich St. between Vesey and Fulton Sts., has soared to $700 million. Although the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has set aside $50 million for the PAC, no other funds have been raised. The W.T.C. Memorial Foundation was originally in charge of planning and fundraising for the PAC, but Doctoroff told Downtown Express last August that the city was looking to take more control over the process.

An official speaking to Downtown Express on the condition of anonymity on March 27 outlined almost all of the details that were in the Times article, published March 28.

Despite the recent city announcement, Community Board 1 Chairperson Julie Menin, who also sits on the W.T.C. Memorial Foundation board, said that it wasn’t entirely clear at this point whether the city or the foundation is officially in charge. The mayor’s press office did not return calls for comment.

The new plan for the PAC would remove the Signature Theater, an off-Broadway group, from the building, leaving only the Joyce dance theater. The city hopes to relocate the Signature to the new Fiterman Hall building that the Borough of Manhattan Community College is constructing on Barclay St., catty corner to 7 W.T.C. Doctoroff and the official said the revised plan would lower the PAC construction costs to $350 million. The city would make an undetermined investment in the Fiterman theater.

Relocating the Signature Theater to Fiterman Hall could make some arts programming available to the community sooner, since Fiterman is slated to be completed in 2010. Construction on the PAC, on the other hand, cannot even begin until 2011, since the Port Authority will use the site as a temporary entrance to the W.T.C. PATH station until the permanent Calatrava-designed station is built.

The Port also wants to build a second vehicle security exit at the PAC site, which is tightening the space squeeze, the official said.

The Signature’s potential move to Fiterman, however, is far from a sure deal. According to City University of New York spokesperson Michael Arena, the university has discussed the idea, but no decisions have been made.

“There are no plans at present for putting an additional cultural facility at Fiterman Hall, but the university is always open to exploring the possibility of cultural activities at its campuses,” Arena said.

Community leaders took the PAC news with a mix of disappointment and hope. Menin said she was glad that the city was working to make the PAC more financially feasible, but saddened by the fact that the cultural space on the site was shrinking yet again.

“It’s positive in sense that the city came up with a creative way get something built faster and in a more cost effective way,” Menin said. “What’s negative is that there has been a whittling away of the grand performing arts center, gradually, over time.”

Menin said that city and the community now need to come up with other ways to bring culture Downtown. The L.M.D.C. announced it would disband last year, but with that decision apparently rescinded, Menin reiterated her call for C.B. 1 to have a seat on the L.M.D.C. board so that the community’s voice can speak louder as the planning process moves forward.

If it were up to Menin, the agency would create a five-point cultural master plan for Lower Manhattan’s future. Menin’s five points would be: supporting public art projects all around Downtown, designating cultural districts and giving artists grants to locate there, putting a major cultural venue somewhere within the new W.T.C. towers (in the vein of Jazz at Lincoln Center), giving arts organizations incentives to relocate to vacant sites like the Battery Maritime Building and the old Fulton Fish Market, and drawing major art shows down to the district.

“Art is such an important component of society,” said Menin. “We need to think passionately and we need to think outside the box. Otherwise, it’s really going to be a lost opportunity to revitalize the neighborhood.”

C.B. 1 Vice Chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes echoed Menin’s call for more community involvement in the cultural planning process. The board’s World Trade Center Committee, which Hughes chairs, recently passed a resolution demanding a more open process in the development of the PAC and calling on the city to create a task force or an advisory council to develop the cultural plans with community input.

Hughes called the news of the PAC’s reduction in scope both “depressing” and “disturbing.” A cultural center with just one tenant, Hughes said, is not what the community agreed to when it approved the W.T.C. master plan.

“It’s only through a transparent process that life becomes better Downtown,” Hughes said. “The PAC was one of the key components for the community — a part of making this more of a 24/7 neighborhood…Whoever is making the decisions right now is not paying attention to the community board and the many, many resolutions we have passed on this subject.”

On April 16, the community will have a chance to learn more about the current plans for the PAC at a City Council public hearing sponsored by Lower Manhattan Councilmember Alan Gerson. Though the Councilmember had scheduled the meeting before news of the PAC restructuring broke, Gerson said in a press release that he now hopes to use the hearing to vet the revised plans.

Though Gerson called the new concept “promising,” the Councilmember wrote in a prepared statement Wednesday that “the plan [must] be configured in a way that creates a viable campus between the organizations for synergy and critical mass, and that all of this happen as soon as is responsibly possible.”

With reporting by Josh Rogers

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