Volume 16 • Issue 20 | October 14 - 20, 2003

Whitehead says Liberty Bonds won’t be wasted Downtown

By Josh Rogers

The chairperson of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. said last week that he thinks tax-free Liberty Bonds will be needed to build the proposed offices at the World Trade Center site and there are not enough bonds to cover all of the office demand in Lower Manhattan.

“Lower Manhattan will have more needs than we have Liberty Bonds available,” said the chairperson, John Whitehead, at the L.M.D.C.’s board meeting Thursday. He repeated his criticism of the plans of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki to use some of the bonds to for office towers in Midtown.

“It will be needed for the World Trade Center site itself and the surrounding area, so I believe Liberty Bonds should not be used out of the Downtown area,” Whitehead added.

Developer Larry Silverstein, who owns the leasing rights to the site, is hoping to win $7 billion in insurance money— double the estimated value of the W.T.C. — because he argues that the attack on the Twin Towers constitutes two separate occurrences. The insurance companies are willing to pay $3.5 billion, which would not be enough to build the proposed offices. If the insurance dispute is not settled, it is expected to take years to resolve the lawsuits in court.

Whitehead, Bloomberg and Pataki all agree that Congress should extend the Liberty Bond expiration date beyond 2004, but Whitehead and other Downtown leaders disagree with the mayor and governor and say bond money intended to help Lower Manhattan should not be used in Midtown.

Under the law, up to $2 billion in the $8 billion Liberty Bond program can be used for commercial projects outside of the Downtown area. Whitehead said money is only allowed to leave Downtown if the money can’t be used in Lower Manhattan, and Bloomberg is being too hasty considering there may be a deadline extension.

Congress set aside $1.2 billion in tax money to support the bonds, but officials favor an extension rather than trying to get the tax money transferred to other Downtown projects.

There are questions whether the other federal tax credits in the $21.4 billion package for Lower Manhattan will ever be used, and Kevin Rampe, L.M.D.C. president, said the agency will try to get Congress to transfer the money – perhaps about $1 billion – if it goes unspent.

“I think people have committed the money to help Lower Manhattan and we’re going to follow through,” Rampe said at last week’s meeting. “We’ll certainly pursue efforts to the full value.”

Apartments south of the W.T.C.

The L.M.D.C. board voted to hire two consulting firms to study ways to add more residents to the area south of the W.T.C. site.

Carl Weisbrod, a board member and the president of the Downtown Alliance, said this area, Greenwich St. South, was “the best target area” to add housing and hoped that it will strike a balance with the rest of Lower Manhattan, where he hopes to see more commercial development.

Mayor Bloomberg identified this area as a prime spot to build more housing last December to go along with a proposed new park over the entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Bloomberg also identified the east end of Fulton St. as another new potential residential area.

Weisbrod, in a telephone interview, said planners should be “careful where [housing] goes elsewhere” and said projects along Fulton St. should be evaluated case by case.

The L.M.D.C. voted to pay Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates $660,000 to do urban design consulting work on Greenwich St. and $220,000 to URS Corp. to do transportation consulting work. Hardy’s head, Hugh Hardy, is one of the founders of New York/New Visions, a post-9/11 group of architects and planners that has helped shape the debate about the W.T.C. rebuilding plans. New Visions has been a strong supporter of architect Daniel Libeskind’s W.T.C. site plan.

Memorial exhibition

The L.M.D.C. authorized $120,000 for an exhibit to display the final designs for the W.T.C. memorial at the Winter Garden [see related article, page 9]. Officials said the finalists for the 4.7-acre memorial near the W.T.C.’s slurry wall will be announced sometime in the next few weeks.

Originally, L.M.D.C. officials indicated there would be up to five finalists before the 13-member jury selected the final design later in the fall, but they have budgeted enough money to display eight designs. L.M.D.C. officials said last week that it would be up to the jury to decide precisely how many finalists would be considered. The jury, which includes leaders in the art, architecture and academic worlds, the wife of one of the Sept. 11 victims and one Downtown resident, is narrowing the field down from exactly 5,200 submissions.

In addition to the exhibit, there will be two public announcements at the Winter Garden, presumably one to announce the finalists and one to select the final design.

Grasso’s status

Richard Grasso, former head of the New York Stock Exchange and an L.M.D.C. board member, did not attend last week’s meeting. Grasso, who resigned from the exchange several weeks ago after an uproar over his large salary and bonus package, has had spotty attendance since former Mayor Rudy Giuliani named him to the L.M.D.C. board in 2001. But Whitehead was not about to pile on to the embattled former leader of the Big Board.

Whitehead said it will be Bloomberg’s decision as to how long Grasso remains at the L.M.D.C. “It’s up to the mayor,” said Whitehead. “He’s been a very good, constructive member of the board.”



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