Volume 20, Number 40 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Feb. 15 - 21 , 2008


What Downtown needs from the L.M.D.C.

This is one of the few times in the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s six-year history that we have heard no rumors of its imminent demise. Gov. Eliot Spitzer appears to be solidly behind the corporation created by his predecessor. Since it’s going to stick around and since it’s one of the key players in Downtown’s ongoing rebuilding efforts, it is essential that its performance improves.

The L.M.D.C. was given nearly $3 billion of federal money after 9/11 to help Manhattan south of Houston St., thus tying much of Lower Manhattan’s successful recovery to the success of the agency.

Under Gov. George Pataki, the state-city public authority had its problems, but its solicitation of public opinions and comments on the big decisions was for the most part, remarkable. There were large community forums on the World Trade Center site plan and the memorial, and smaller neighborhood workshops to get input on how best to spend the last $1 billion, some of which remains unspent.

Perhaps the biggest L.M.D.C. failure under Pataki was at the former Deutsche Bank building — a damaged structure which took the lives of two brave firefighters last year and which continues to plague the Downtown community. Spitzer, Avi Schick, the corporation’s chairperson, and their team have not learned the right lessons from their mistakes and those of their predecessors.

L.M.D.C. officials pooh-poohed the warnings of community and environmental activists, hired inexperienced contractors with alleged mob ties, and did not do enough after glass fell from the building. By the time Spitzer’s team took over last year, the project somehow appeared to be righting itself. But when a large pipe fell from the building and injured two firefighters, when the head of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center admitted the rush to take the building down led to the pipe crash, when safety and fire violations continued, those were the points that things should have been rethought — a decision that might have saved two men’s lives.

The lesson should have been that public input is vital. Questions about what is being planned should be answered, not ignored. Giving the public and independent experts chances to review draft plans while there is still a realistic chance to change them is smart. The Deutsche deconstruction plan is still not ready five months after the fire and like the recent decontamination plan, we expect it will also be sprung onto the public at the last minute.

We continue to hear from dedicated community people and others who are frightened to say anything the L.M.D.C. won’t like. These people should be fully included because they often have good solutions to problems.

The L.M.D.C. also has other priorities that are not getting enough attention. Where’s the promised plan for a needed bus garage in Greenwich St. South, the fight to begin fundraising for the W.T.C.’s Performing Arts Center, and the search to find space for the Signature Theater evicted from the W.T.C.? The city does not share all of these priorities and the fights can’t be left to them. The small businesses being hurt by long-term construction are likely to need more than rent subsidies, which may finally be coming soon.

A smart local agency that listens to the community can develop more and better solutions. That’s what Downtown needs the L.M.D.C. to be.

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