Volume 19 Issue 49 | April 20 - 26, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Avi Schick, left, the new chairperson of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., with Charles Maikish, who announced Tuesday he was resigning as executive director of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center.

Spitzer names new leaders of the L.M.D.C.

By Josh Rogers

It’s not your old governor’s L.M.D.C.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer named two new leaders of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. Monday and made it clear the days of Pataki, when the city had something approaching veto power over big decisions, are over. City officials were silent on the appointments for nearly three days, and although they are not criticizing the decisions or Spitzer, it could set up conflicts in the future since the mayor controls half the seats on the L.M.D.C. board. The corporation oversaw the development of the World Trade Center plans and has about $200 million left in 9/11 rebuilding money.

Avi Schick the new president of the state’s economic development corporation, was named L.M.D.C. chairperson, and David Emil, former owner of Windows on the World who set up a charity for its workers after 9/11, will be the president. Schick, 40, has been meeting with community leaders in recent weeks and has already been given high marks for improving relations with them. His L.M.D.C. position is unpaid.

Emil, 56, was president and C.E.O. of the Battery Park City Authority from 1988 to 1994 and had a stormy relationship with Community Board 1 back then. He did not return calls for comment and appears to have made no public statement about his new job – including in Spitzer’s own press release. Schick did not say when Emil would start. Emil’s salary will be $185,000 and he will fill a position that has been vacant since September.

Dep. Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, who has coordinated the city’s rebuilding plans since 2002, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the relationship with the Spitzer administration is “coming along.” It can’t be the same as it was under Gov. George Pataki, he said, because rebuilding has progressed to a new phase. Doctoroff said the early signs are that there will be good cooperation.

As for Emil’s hiring, Doctoroff said, “I met with David Monday,” the day of the governor’s announcement. “I have known him a long time. It’s a very constructive step.”

Two former chairpersons of C.B. 1, Madelyn Wils and Anne Compoccia, said in separate interviews that it was not easy dealing with Emil.

Wils, an L.M.D.C. board member, remembered meeting with Compoccia and Emil in 1992 to see if he would agree to build temporary ballfields in Battery Park City.

“The first meeting he said ‘no way,’ Wils recalled. “I learned not to put all of my eggs in one basket.”

Compoccia said she then went to Gov. Mario Cuomo and he overruled the public authority he controlled. Despite Emil’s objections, the fields were built in 1993 and C.B. 1 convinced the city and the authority to make the fields a permanent amenity in 2000.

Compoccia recalled late night phone calls and “a lot of nasty fights” with Emil, but said she always saw him as a smart, loyal and vigorous advocate for the authority.

Emil insisted that C.B. 1 endorse the design for the Chambers St. pedestrian bridge leading to Stuyvesant High School and Compoccia refused to sign off until Emil agreed to a public access community center in the school.

“He got his stupid bridge and we got the ballfield,” Compoccia said.

Neither she or Wils thought Emil’s past would be a predictor of his tenure at the L.M.D.C.

“He’s a seasoned executive,” said Wils. “I know David was very affected by this terrible tragedy.”

After 9/11, Emil set up Windows of Hope, a charity to help the families of the 79 restaurant employees killed in 2001.

Wils, one of the few original L.M.D.C. board members, still on the board, said Emil is becoming president of “a very different agency.” She said it’s no longer a development agency and it’s main function now is to watch over the allocated money as it is spent on Downtown projects.

In a prepared statement Spitzer said “With new leadership and a new direction, a reinvigorated L.M.D.C. will help revitalize an area that is important as an economic hub to New York and as a symbol of our freedom and resilience to all Americans.”

During his campaign last year, he called it an “abject failure,” but that view changed. On Monday, Schick told outgoing L.M.D.C. chairperson Kevin Rampe: “The Spitzer administration wants to give you our great thanks.”

Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg announced last summer that the L.M.D.C., having completed its mission, would close at the end of last year and it was given little shelf life in 2007, when Spitzer took power. Officials with the governor, L.M.D.C., the Empire State Development Corp. and the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development had refused to answer questions for months on the L.M.D.C.’s future until last week when they said it was not going to disband. HUD, which must approve all L.M.D.C. expenditures, insisted the agency stick around to keep tabs on the money.

“There’s a real legal need to keep the L.M.D.C.,” said Carl Weisbrod, an L.M.D.C. board member, pointing to the assets it owns such as the former Deutsche Bank building across from the W.T.C.

Weisbrod, who enjoyed a good relationship with C.B. 1 when he was president of the Downtown Alliance, said he thinks Emil’s previous difficulties with C.B. 1 will not resurface because it is such a different time. When Emil was at the authority, the Downtown economy was in such bad shape that he had to be creative to turn things around, and it’s not surprising it ruffled some feathers.

“I have no doubt he will work very effectively with the community,” he said. “He’s very smart. He has a real passion to see the renaissance of Lower Manhattan. When Windows reopened [under Emil a few years after the 1993 W.T.C. bombing] it was the harbinger of a new era in Lower Manhattan.”

Schick said after an L.M.D.C. board meeting Tuesday that he had convened a panel to review about 200 applications from Downtown organizations for $45 million worth of grants. The applications were due last November, but state and city officials had not even looked at them until recently.

C.B. 1 passed a resolution this week calling on Julie Menin, the board’s current chairperson to be selected to the L.M.D.C. board. When asked about that Schick did not respond directly but said he is working to improve relations and named Menin to the grant review panel.

“We have a really good relationship,” Schick said of the community board. “I speak to Julie Menin and my staff does most weeks.”

Menin agreed, saying Schick was a good choice to be L.M.D.C. chairperson. “I’m delighted he’s taken on this new role,” she said. “He’s been very receptive.”

The members of the review panel are: Shaifali Puri, senior advisor to Schick; James Whelan, Doctoroff’s senior aide who was just appointed by Mayor Bloomberg to the L.M.D.C. board; Amy Stursberg former director of the September 11th Fund and an L.M.D.C. consultant; Paula Berry, vice chairperson of the International Freedom Center; Anita Contini , director of corporate and public affairs for CIT Group, and a former L.M.D.C. executive in charge of the memorial selection process and cultural initiatives; and Menin.

Menin and Berry, whose husband was killed on 9/11, were both on the jury that selected the W.T.C. memorial design and are now on the Memorial Foundation’s board.

Menin said she will push for C.B. 1’s priorities for the community grants: programs for children, seniors, and for 9/11 related health issues. The community board has also written a letter supporting the 92nd Street Y’s application for a grant for its planned new center on Hudson St.

Menin said it’s important the community board also have representation at the L.M.D.C. since there are still a lot of important issues it will consider, even with most of the money gone.

Wils, Menin’s predecessor, disagreed saying the city officials are the ones now working on plans on L.M.D.C.-funded projects. “If they want to get more involved,” Wils said, “they should focus more on the city.”

With reporting by Skye H. McFarlane

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