Volume 16 • Issue 16 | September 16 - 22, 2003


REBUILDING



Port looks to buy W.T.C. retail

By Josh Rogers

The Port Authority has agreed to try and buy back the leasing rights to the World Trade Center site retail from Westfield America for $140 million, according to the firm, which had challenged the selected site plan design.
Joseph Seymour, the executive director of the P.A. of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, released a statement announcing an agreement to enter discussions, although hr did not mention the price.

“This agreement would give the Port Authority greater direct control over retail development and further protect the dignity of the World Trade Center site,” Seymour said Sept. 15.

Carl Weisbrod, president of the Downtown Alliance and a Lower Manhattan Development Corp. director, said he welcomed the announcement particularly since Westfield had been trying to change architect Daniel Libeskind’s W.T.C. plan in court.

“It’s good news,” Weisbrod said in a telephone interview. “It takes another complication out of the picture at the very least. It’s time to move forward.”

Westfield reportedly objected to the large amount of street-level retail in the W.T.C. plan, which was a priority of Mayor Mike Bloomberg as well as many Lower Manhattan residents and businesses. Westfield also felt the Libeskind retail configuration would not work well economically.

Frank Lowy, Westfield’s chairperson, said in a Sept. 15 statement that the firm was selling its interest “to the Port to help simplify the overall rebuilding process…. While Westfield wanted to be a part of the future of the World Trade Center, we recognized the conflict between the interests of the public and the needs of our commercial/net lease rights. Selling our interest back to the Port will allow the public interest to take precedence.”

Westfield and developer Larry Silverstein agreed to lease the W.T.C. for 99 years at an estimated $3.2 billion several weeks before the buildings were destroyed. Under the 2001 deal, Westfield, an Australian-based mall operator, would take over the center’s profitable shopping complex and Silverstein would run the offices. Silverstein, who expects to collect at least $3 billion in insurance fees, remains in control of the office plans and his architect, David Childs is consulting with Libeskind about the design for the 1776-foot Freedom Tower, slated to begin construction next August.

A spokesperson for Gov. George Pataki, who shares control of the P.A. with the New Jersey governor, said there would be no comment beyond the Port’s statement. A source in the governor’s office said “it is a step in the right direction to keep with the governor’s timeline.”

The Port Authority decided to lease the towers in 2001 because it wanted to return to its original mission of providing transportation. The takeover of the retail lease would be a move back in the other direction, but Weisbrod said it was good to return more control of the site to the public and that the P.A.’s role in the retail “may not be permanent.”

He said the Port may lease the retail to someone else and if not, the agency did an “outstanding” job of upgrading the shopping mall in the late ‘90s before the Westfield lease.


Josh@DowntownExpress.com



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