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

Talking point

Adjust the Port-Silverstein deal to include residents

By Daniel Squadron

As neighbors to the largest construction site in the city over the last few years, Lower Manhattan residents have suffered repeatedly. In the last few months, it’s gotten even worse. This is because in guaranteeing to complete the ground zero “bathtub” — the site’s water-tight foundation — for Sites 3 and 4 before Jan. 1, and agreeing to pay developer Larry Silverstein a $300,000 a day penalty for any delay, the Port Authority made a promise it could not keep.

When the P.A. found itself well behind schedule last fall, it embarked on a near round-the-clock construction schedule. Of course, this was too-much, too-late; a month past the deadline the site is still not ready. Now, it looks like noise is easing at Sites 3 and 4, which will be turned over shortly. But with a similar July 1 deadline looming for the northern part of the site, there is no guarantee of relief in sight.

We keep being told that it’s inevitable. Silverstein’s $300,000 per day meter will keep running (or looming), the Port Authority’s 24/7 construction will keep humming (or banging or beeping), and the neighborhood’s residents will keep suffering.

That’s not good enough. Both Silverstein and the Port Authority will be neighbors in the Lower Manhattan community for years to come; they must communicate that they understand what being a good neighbor means. The recent attempts by the Port Authority — quieter construction practices and sound-proofed windows — are well-intentioned band-aids that will not heal the problem.

The only real solution is for the Port to listen to the community’s wishes and limit itself to a reasonable work schedule that allows residents some relief. (Community Board 1 passed a unanimous resolution in December limiting construction to a still intense 7 a.m.-10 p.m.) Unfortunately, the Port will not promise to adhere to this limited schedule unless Silverstein promises to cap his penalty at the total amount projected to accrue under the current, untenable, schedule.

Why should Silverstein agree? There are a couple of reasons. First, with years of construction ahead, adopting a good neighbor policy makes sense. Second, the Port Authority should sweeten the deal. Under the current agreement, once Silverstein gets a site, he has exactly four years to complete construction. If he goes over even one day, he forfeits his building. If Silverstein agrees to cap the penalty, the Port Authority should offer Silverstein an additional day for each unpenalized day until the site is turned over. This compromise may increase the period of construction a few months overall, but it won’t risk a stoppage (always a concern); as a proportion of the entire project’s length, the increase will be nominal. Continuing to move forward is important, but doing so in a way that respects the community’s needs is critical.

If the Port Authority and Silverstein come together around this solution, it will be a win-win-win: Silverstein will earn some flexibility on his project and some goodwill with his neighbors; the current leadership at the Port Authority will be able to design a rational and predictable work plan, and get out of the shadow of a mess that was left for them; and Lower Manhattan residents will finally be able to get a few hours sleep.

Daniel Squadron, a former aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer, is a Democratic candidate for the State Senate’s 25th District, which includes Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn.

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