Volume 20 Issue 7 | June 29 - July 5, 2007


It may hurt and be too slow, but it’s progress

Last week there were two movements forward in the Lower Manhattan rebuilding efforts – the Port Authority approved the deal to bring JPMorgan Chase back Downtown, and the city advanced the long-awaited plans to refurbish Fulton St., but also revealed that most of Fulton St. will close for at least 2 years in order to replace a 150-year-old water main.

Both developments were the latest indications that each step toward progress also has its drawbacks and it will take a determined effort to build the better Downtown we believe is coming.
JPMorgan Chase

There are big upsides to the deal. Having JPMorgan Chase return across the street from the Goldman Sachs headquarters does solidify Wall St. as the world’s financial center -- as the governor, mayor, Assembly speaker and others point out. Chase’s signing a deal to move to the former Deutsche Bank building site provides much-needed confirmation that perhaps the hulking, damaged building finally being dismantled may actually be gone one day.

Unlike Goldman, Chase made the deal while Downtown is surging so it justifiably did not receive the same massive government subsidies. But $240 million is not chump change and even though most are “off the shelf” incentives available to any firm that made an early deal at the World Trade Center, it still makes us uneasy.

The deal, we think is a net-plus for Downtown, but that doesn’t mean it could have been better.

Fulton St. 

The water main problem is unavoidable and will cause a lot of pain starting in a few weeks. The dearth of good east-west thoroughfares has plagued Downtown for decades, if not centuries and losing Fulton for such a long period of time will be hard on residents, small businesses and workers.

It heightens the urgency of something we have said repeatedly the last few years: Small business owners near major construction projects need short-term help desperately to give them a chance to be around when Downtown is rebuilt better than before.

The city, which probably should have informed people sooner about the problem, appears to have chosen the right course of action and is now doing a good job of outreach. Even if all of the planning were perfect, the very nature of underground work is that unexpected problems are guaranteed. The key will be to make sure the many government agencies and utilities involved communicate well with each other and the public. Smart, hands-on people need to be on the scene and available to make quick decisions and lessen the pain.          

The city is also planning to refurbish a plaza and improve the look of the streets in the first phase of the Fulton St. work. The phasing demonstrates the city understands how trying the next two years will be. Making things nicer as quickly as possible is essential.Downtowners have proven they can live through a lot. A lot more is coming.

The ride won’t be easy, but we’re on the right track.

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