What will David do Downtown?
By Josh Rogers
Downtown leaders were mostly confident Wednesday that the new governor would not affect the continued rebuilding progress at the World Trade Center site.
A few hours after Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced he would resign next Monday and turn the reins to Lt. Gov. David Paterson, the two men in charge at the W.T.C. told the New York Building Congress that the steady construction work that began at the end of 2006 will continue.
“I would tell Gov. Paterson that all of the agreements have been signed,” said W.T.C. developer Larry Silverstein, in response to a question at the luncheon in the Battery Park City Ritz-Carlton. “Everything is done.”
Both he and Anthony Shorris, the Port Authority’s executive director and a Spitzer appointee, welcomed Paterson to his new job. Shorris said regardless of who is governor, “they’re going to realize the importance of this site…. There won’t be much needed to encourage their enthusiasm…. There will be 100 bumps along the way. We all have to keep our eyes focused on the inevitable vision.”
Shorris said rising construction costs remain a difficult issue but so far the Port has been able to keep everything within the budget without making significant design cuts.
“Your rate of getting smarter has to exceed the rate of inflation,” he said.
Not too long after Monday’s shocking news reports that Spitzer had hired high-priced prostitutes, according to surveillance evidence collected by federal prosecutors, speculation began about who might be in or out in a Paterson administration’s Downtown team. The rumors may remain on hold for now as the new governor likely be handling the budget and the March 31 congestion pricing deadline before he focuses on the Lower Manhattan agenda.
Judy Rapfogel, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s chief of staff, said Paterson is well aware of Silver’s ongoing efforts to keep progress continuing Downtown, but the speaker and governor-to-be have been mostly talking about the budget and the most immediate issues now.
“Shelly has spoken with I guess they’re calling him Governor-elect Paterson, repeatedly, and [Silver] will do everything he can to advocate for Lower Manhattan,” she said.
The pair go way back, said Rapfogel and “he’s a Manhattan guy so he knows Shelly’s commitment to Downtown. We think he’ll be very sensitive to Shelly’s concerns.”
Paterson on Monday will assume full or half responsibility of the Port, which owns the W.T.C., the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the Battery Park City Authority and the Hudson River Park Trust.
Liz Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance, which runs Lower Manhattan’s business improvement district, said rebuilding the area is clearly important to the state and the country and she thinks there will be no shifts in progress under Paterson.
She does hope to take up recently announced Metropolitan Transportation Authority cuts to the Fulton Transit Center, soon after the Paterson administration is in place. The M.T.A. does not have the money to build the proposed aboveground center but said two weeks ago that some sort of structure would be in the new five-year capital-plan, which is only half funded. Berger said the M.T.A. can’t just build a small box over the train tracks.
“It is essential that it be a distinctive, architecturally significant building with sufficient, quality retail,” Berger said after the speeches by Sliverstein and Shorris.
Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, said the train center and other Downtown projects are in need of new attention, regardless of who is governor.
“There are a number of projects that have issues cost overrun and scheduling issues,” Wylde said in a telephone interview. “It’s a good excuse to take a fresh look that was going to happen anyway.”
Wylde, whose non-profit group is made up of C.E.O.’s from the city’s largest firms, is one of the leading proponents on the traffic pricing plan, which is intended to reduce pollution and raise mass transit money. She said Wednesday she still thinks the plan has a chance to pass the City Council and Albany by March 31.
“I was in Albany yesterday and the swing votes in the Assembly [where opposition is highest] are still swing votes,” she said.
Spitzer and the M.T.A. had been working to get the plan passed and it is unclear how supportive Paterson is. According to one source, Paterson recently told Lee Sander, who runs the M.T.A., that he will work to get the traffic pricing plan passed by the end of the month.
Wylde said the announcement Wednesday that the city will discourage park and ride activities by setting up residential parking permit zones in seven neighborhoods outside the congestion pricing zone should bring some votes along. She said the final legislative package will also have an exemption for low income drivers who need their cars for work and qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Paterson, in a statement Wednesday, offered his prayers and friendship to Spitzer, adding, “It is now time for Albany to get back to work as the people of this state expect from us.”
Before joining Spitzer in the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, Paterson was the state Senate minority leader having ousted state Sen. Martin Connor of Downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn from the leadership position in 2002. Paterson, who represented part of Harlem, was also one of the leaders in the successful fight to preserve the African Burial Ground after the remains of slaves were discovered in 1991 during the construction of a federal building in Lower Manhattan.