Liberty Bond problems continue
Is it too much to ask that $8 billion in tax-free bonds funded by the American public be well spent?
Far from it. It is the obligation of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki to see that the Liberty Bonds are properly used. An estimated $1.2 billion of public money from Maine to Hawaii and yes of course New York is needed to support the bonds and we continue to see the mayor and governor brag about abuses in the program.
Bloomberg said recently it was perfectly appropriate to use bonds that were created as a result of the devastating attack on Lower Manhattan, to help the citys most thriving business area Midtown the same place that has been luring firms from Downtown for decades. It is far better if a firm deciding to leave Downtown finds a home in the citys confines rather than New Jersey, but that doesnt mean we should be taking from Pine St. to pay for Park Ave. Pataki said he would do whatever he could to meet the mayors requests.
Bloomberg laid out a thoughtful and comprehensive plan for Lower Manhattan last year and it seems clear to us if not the mayor that his support for Midtown bonds works against his own plan.
This week, the citys Industrial Development considered testimony on a $650 million Liberty Bond proposal by the Durst Organization to build an office for Bank of America at One Bryant Park. Forest City Ratner has applied for bonds to build a Midtown office that will include the New York Times headquarters. The Paper of Record should care about moving into a building that transferred money from Lower Manhattan when it needed it most, not to speak of the appearance of conflict in receiving funding from politicians that they have a mission to cover impartially.
We commend John Whitehead, a Pataki appointee and the chairperson of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., for saying in effect the governor and mayor are wrong and joining with other Downtown leaders in denouncing Midtown bonds.
The bonds, as we have said before, should accomplish at least two goals. One they should encourage Lower Manhattan development projects that just wouldnt have happened otherwise. Two they should meet some second public purpose - such as encouraging historic preservation or the construction of significant amounts of affordable housing.
The Midtown projects fail on both tests. There are Downtown applications that fail the second test and should not be approved.
Site 5C in Tribeca comes to mind. Developer Scott Resnick wants to build a 350-foot tower behind P.S. 234. It would cause significant shadows in Washington Market Park and the schoolyards at P.S. 234 and P.S./I.S. 89. The project was supposed to have an 18,000square foot recreation facility, but that was to be part of the plan before 9/11 and before Liberty Bonds. Given the project is in Tribeca where residential real estate has mostly come back and the negative shadow
Effects on area schools and parks, this is not an appropriate use of public money.
Across the street to the south at Site 5B, developer Edward Minskoff is looking to build a tower of similar height. The L.M.D.C. recently agreed to pay him $50 million to build 315 middle-income apartments on the site, so if Minskoff ends up asking for Liberty Bonds in addition, he should be asked to do more than just affordable housing. Lopping 100 feet or so off the building would be a good place to start. And when will public officials make a commitment to locate and fund an elementary school for all the new kids in these buildings and other buildings in Downtowns population boom?
The $8 billion in Liberty Bonds that may not be spent before the deadline at the end of next year should be shifted to more vital needs such as improving Lower Manhattan transportation. The city and states neglect of Lower Manhattan transportation for the last 70 years is the main reason firms started moving to Midtown in the first place.
Pataki and Bloomberg should be talking to Senators Schumer and Clinton about shifting the bond money to other priorities and be leaning on their friends in the White House for more help, not siphoning money out of Lower Manhattan.