Downtown deadlines? Forget em for now, says Spitzer aide
By Josh Rogers
Even when you see Downtown redevelopment construction under way, dont believe any opening date predictions.
That message comes not from frustrated residents, small business owners or business leaders who change their subway routes and weave their way past large construction projects every day, but from Avi Schick, who leads Gov. Eliot Spitzers redevelopment program as chairperson of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and president of the Empire State Development Corp.
Schick delivered the message last week to the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, a private business group that heaped praise on Gov. George Pataki when he laid out a detailed timeline on Lower Manhattan in April 2003 and then followed up with six month progress reports in the subsequent years.
Although key dates were missed by Pataki most notably on the beginning of Freedom Tower construction and the demolition of the former Deutsche Bank building many others were achieved, including opening the temporary PATH World Trade Center stop in Nov. 2003 in the middle of a seven-story hole in the ground covering 16 acres.
When one attendee asked Schick for the opening dates for the World Trade Center PATH station and the Fulton Transit Center two projects where the construction work has been steady the last few years Schick said he would make no commitments. In the past, these dates were unreliable because they came from press officers and not engineers and planners, he said.
Schicks view of Downtown deadlines, though, is not shared by Spitzers appointees at the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The day before Schicks speech, Anthony Shorris, executive director of the Port, led a World Trade Center progress report for reporters and said the transit hub is on schedule to open in 2009. A few hours after the speech, a spokesperson for Lee Sander, who runs the M.T.A., said the Fulton Transit Center will be done in the fall of 2009. Two of the first entrances to the center have just opened on Cortlandt and Liberty Sts.
Schick said that under Spitzer, just as there will be no more false starts, there will be no more false promises. A private engineering firm will evaluate all of the Downtown construction projects and coordinate the opening schedules, Schick said.
When this is done, the public will know that any dates Gov. Spitzer announces are real, and not symbolic, he added.
Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York, made up of C.E.O.s of the citys largest firms, was one of the driving forces behind getting Pataki to lay out the Downtown deadlines four years ago and two years after limited rebuilding progress. When told of Schicks comments, her first words were Jesus and my goodness.
The deadlines were very important to getting everyone cracking and bring the kibitzing and fighting on the planning to an end, she added. [They] were aimed at moving from talk to getting shovels in the ground and I think they did pretty well on that.
The deadlines held people accountable and when they were missed, it indicated problems with implementation, not with the idea of setting goals, Wylde said.
But the business leaders who attended the breakfast speech appeared receptive to Schicks remarks.
A diplomatic Robert Douglass, chairperson of the D-L.M.A. who sits on the L.M.D.C. board with Schick, said he was not concerned there will be delays to the transit projects and he viewed the remarks as the same approach Pataki took.
I think he wants to do what Pataki did [the former governor] laid out a chart that keeps everyones feet to the fire, Douglass said.
Schick, however, did indicate indirectly that he has missed one of his previous targets. In July, prior to the fatal Deutsche Bank fire, which has been the L.M.D.C.s top priority, he said that the winners of $45 million in community grants would be announced Sept. 17. Schick told the business group last week that the announcement will be in October.