Volume 20, Number 49 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | APRIL 19 - 26, 2008

Art Center is ‘forgotten stepchild,’ critics charge

By Julie Shapiro

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum reached a fundraising milestone last week, raising questions about when fundraising will start for another project on the site: the oft-forgotten performing arts center.

On April 9, the museum announced that it reached its $350 million fundraising goal.

“It’s a real sign that there’s a lot of people out there who share our goal of building the memorial and museum,” said Joe Daniels, president and C.E.O. of the Memorial Museum. “There’s a real feeling that we’ve accomplished something, but there’s still a ways to go.”

The museum immediately launched another fundraising campaign, with a goal of $25 million for programming and an endowment. Daniels is hoping to raise that money as soon as possible, but acknowledged that he has to be realistic about the economic downturn. “It’s a challenging exercise to raise money right now,” he said.

The Memorial Museum foundation was also slated to raise money for the performing arts center on the World Trade Center site and run the center, but two years ago the city said it would take the lead. The foundation no longer mentions the performing arts center as part of its mission.

The city has long said that the hundreds of millions of dollars of fundraising for the performing arts center could not happen until the museum reached its $350 million goal. But now that the museum reached the goal, no one has stepped forward to start fundraising — and no one knows which entity will raise the money.

“We’re focused on the memorial and museum,” Daniels said last week. While he supports a performing arts center at the World Trade Center site, he said that the city needs to make the next move. The design and cost estimate for the performing arts center are not final, he said.

“Everyone needs to sit down and discuss [who will fundraise],” Daniels said. “That is a question that needs to be answered.”

Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1 and a member of the Memorial Museum foundation’s board, has long been critical of the city’s decision to delay fundraising for the performing arts center. She first spoke out several years ago, saying that the foundation should raise money concurrently for both the Memorial Museum and performing arts center. Menin said several Downtown corporations with arts-related foundations told her then that they were more than willing to give money to the performing arts center, but no one was collecting donations.

“The performing arts center continues to be put on the back burner, and that’s a huge mistake,” Menin said this week. Even if fundraising starts immediately, the shrinking credit markets make this a much more difficult time to raise money, Menin said. And she has not heard of a timeline to start fundraising or even a timeline for the city’s decision on who will raise the money.

“How much more can that be delayed?” Menin asked. “It’s been years…. The more years, the more delays, the less likely it is that this is going to happen — and that is a totally unacceptable result.”

Menin thinks the Memorial Museum foundation’s board, or a subcommittee of the board, should do the fundraising. The foundation has a successful track record, she said.

Kate Levin, commissioner of the city Department of Cultural Affairs, released a statement to Downtown Express saying the city and Lower Manhattan Development Corporation are working on a feasibility study for the performing arts center, but she gave no indication of when it would be completed. Her spokesperson also did not give a timeline. Levin said the fundraising won’t start until after the study is complete and a final decision on a site is made.

Joyce in Limbo
Joyce Theater, a dance company with venues in Chelsea and Soho, hopes to operate the performing arts center in a building to be designed by Frank Gehry at the World Trade Center site, but even that is not a final decision. The theater is waiting for word from the city on the design and cost of the project, said Michael McKeon, spokesperson for the Joyce Theater.

“We’re being very patient,” McKeon said. “When they’re ready to move forward, we’re ready to move forward.”

The city has not forbidden Joyce Theater from independently raising money for the project, but McKeon said fundraising would be premature. In the meantime, Joyce is building its board of trustees and working with consultants, McKeon said.

“They can’t exactly fundraise, because what are they fundraising for?” Menin later explained. “How much do they have to raise? They need to get those answers before they begin the [fundraising] campaign.”

Michael Connolly, another C.B. 1 member, has strongly advocated for the performing arts center and is disturbed by the continued lack of progress. The performing arts center was a key part of the original master plan for the site, Connolly said.

The World Trade Center site once was supposed to include four cultural institutions: Joyce Theater, Signature Theater, the Drawing Center and the International Freedom Center. Connolly pointed out that under architect Daniel Libeskind’s original master plan, the museums and theaters were going to form a buffer between the solemn memorial and bustling retail shops and office towers.

In 2005, Gov. George Pataki pulled the Drawing Center and Freedom Center from the plans after victims’ families groups objected to the subject matter. Last year, after city officials saw Gehry’s ideas for a large center for Joyce and Signature, they booted Signature to save on costs.

“The performing arts center seems to us to be the forgotten stepchild of the master plan,” Connolly said. “It’s important that it not be forgotten.”

Part of the reason people aren’t paying attention to the performing arts center is that work cannot start on it for at least another five years. The space allotted for the performing arts center is currently taken up by the temporary PATH entrance on Vesey St., which will remain open until the Santiago Calatrava-designed PATH station is finished in 2012 or 2013. The Daily News reported this week that the PATH station is over budget and may have to be redesigned, pushing the opening to the end of 2013.

In 2006, the L.M.D.C. said that the reason Port Authority was looking to put the PATH entrance over the performing arts center site was because the performing arts center was stalled.

Fulton St. PAC?
The most recent cost estimates from the city are from nearly a year ago, when Signature was removed from the W.T.C. The cost then was thought to be roughly $350 million. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has committed $55 million to the project and L.M.D.C. chairperson Avi Schick told Downtown Express last week that money is still available.

Schick said he is not aware of any plans to start fundraising for the project, but he made news last week when he floated a new idea for the performing arts center in The New York Times: Move the arts building to the Fulton St. Transit Center.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is scrambling to find money to build the promised domed station at Fulton St. and Broadway. The performing arts center is one answer to the question of what could cover the hole in the ground along Broadway (see article, page 6) where the M.T.A. demolished a row of buildings to make room for the station. If the performing arts center moves to Fulton St., construction on it could begin sooner than it would if the building stayed at the World Trade Center site.

However, Schick’s suggestion has met with nearly universal disapproval from elected officials Downtown — including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has a large say on the M.T.A. capital budget — and community members, who want the Fulton St. hub built as promised. The L.M.D.C. has since clarified that the performing arts center relocation is only a suggestion. Bill Wheeler, director of planning for the M.T.A., said he has seen preliminary drawings of the performing arts center above the transit hub, and the M.T.A. will consider those.

Menin said she would wait to see the feasibility study on moving the arts building — due in three weeks — before making a final decision, but she would not support a plan that reduced any of the amenities promised to the community, she said.

Levin, the Department of Cultural Affairs commissioner, said in her statement that the city cannot determine a timeline for the project’s fundraising until they know where the performing arts center will go.

At a recent C.B. 1 World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee meeting, Bill Love called the move a bad idea. The shift would require the Port Authority to redesign its master plan for the site, and meanwhile the community would lose the retail and domed station that the M.T.A. promised on Fulton St. Not to mention, Love said, that a station connecting 12 subway lines “seems to be a particularly inappropriate place for a performing arts center.”

Steve Coleman, Port Authority spokesperson, said last week that the performing arts center is still a part of all plans for the W.T.C. site, but the Port won’t be ready to turn the site over for years. In the past L.M.D.C. officials have worried that the Port could cut the arts space further with a large entrance to the Calatrava station.

The Port Authority has been in contact with the city Economic Development Corporation about designs for the performing arts center, because the Port needs to know how the center will fit into the construction puzzle, said Glenn Guzi, a project manager for Port Authority. Specifically, the Port Authority is building a vehicle security center beneath the site of the future performing arts center and will need to know where columns, for example, should be placed. The Port has received some design information from the city but will need more as the project moves forward, Guzi said.

Councilmember Alan Gerson is working on scheduling a hearing about the World Trade Center site, which would include testimony on the performing arts center. Gerson wanted the fundraising for the Memorial Museum and performing arts center to happen at the same time, and now he wants the city to decide immediately who is responsible for the raising the money, said Paul Nagle, his spokesperson.

Concern about the performing arts center aside, the Memorial Museum is celebrating reaching its $350 million fundraising goal.

The most recent gift that put the museum over the top came from Howard Lutnick, chairperson and C.E.O. of Cantor Fitzgerald. The financial firm, which lost two-thirds of its New York-based employees on 9/11, donated $10 million. Lutnick also lost his brother in the 9/11 attacks.

The museum raised $220 million of the $350 million in the last year and a half since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took over as chairperson of the foundation. Contributions came from 60,000 people in all 50 states and 31 countries. Thirty-six of the gifts were $1 million or more. Bloomberg personally gave $15 million – tied for the second largest donation after the Starr Foundation’s $25 million.

Now that Bloomberg has successfully met the Memorial Museum’s $350 million goal, his next goal should be to raise money for the performing arts center, Connolly said. “He accomplishes things.”

With reporting by Josh Rogers




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