Volume 21, Number 10 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | July 18 - 24, 2008

Ward says he’s no Moses, but promised land is in sight

By Julie Shapiro

The builders of the new World Trade Center squirmed last week at the suggestion that what the project may really need is not a collaborative steering committee but a single-minded visionary like Robert Moses.

The suggestion came from Albert Capsouto, a Community Board 1 member, at the first public meeting held by the key W.T.C. players since the Port Authority’s announcement two weeks ago that the rebuilding is millions over budget and years behind schedule.

Chris Ward, the Port’s recently appointed executive director and the person who, more than anyone, holds the site’s future in his hands, did not immediately answer Capsouto.

“Moses’s largest failure was his lack of communication with the community,” Ward finally said.

Ward meant that unlike Moses, the legendary planner who made legendarily unilateral decisions, today’s officials are making a point of consulting the community.

As a show of progress, he cited the C.B. 1 forum at which he was speaking last Thursday night. The meeting marked the first time an executive director of the Port Authority has appeared before the board, according to the community board.

Ten days earlier, Ward released a report, at the request of Gov. David Paterson, that outlined the 15 unresolved issues at the World Trade Center site that make a new timeline or cost estimate impossible. Ward pledged to have a more realistic set of deadlines and budgets by September.

At the C.B. 1 meeting, Ward said he did not expect major changes to any of the designs for the site, but if he thought there needed to be any, he promised the community a larger role before decisions were made.

“If and when we do face difficult tradeoffs, we will be back to you to show you the options,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver also emphasized the importance of including the community.

“We will continue to hold you accountable,” he told Ward. “This is not about anyone’s political legacy.”

In addition to Ward, the other panelists at the forum included Robert Lieber, deputy mayor for economic development; Avi Schick, chairperson of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; Bob Harvey, acting executive director of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center; Joe Daniels, president of the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum; and Janno Lieber, head of Silverstein Properties’s W.T.C. development. They represent the site’s stakeholders, which will each have a seat on the steering committee Ward set up to resolve the project’s uncertainties.

Julie Menin, chairperson of C.B. 1, opened Thursday’s meeting by exhorting Ward and the others to provide a plan the community can rely on.

“We do not want to be promised false deadlines and unrealistic hopes,” Menin said.

Ward complied, supplying the board with several blunt answers.

When Dennis Gault, a board member, asked about getting a school on the site to ease overcrowding Downtown, Ward did not hesitate.

“The answer is no,” Ward said. “Every single square foot of the site is dedicated to the projects.”

Additionally, Ward warned that the Port could make some unpopular decisions come September. The interlocking nature of the site, in which every piece is dependent on several others, means that the Port could have to stop some work to wait for other projects to catch up.

Janno Lieber, of Silverstein, said the Port Authority’s delays could slow Silverstein’s construction of Towers 2, 3 and 4. Silverstein was counting on the schedule set by former Gov. George Pataki, Lieber said.

“Hopefully [the Port Authority] will bring it back as close as possible to schedule,” he said with Ward sitting near him.

Menin suggested the Port Authority take lessons from the private sector, especially from Lieber’s boss, Larry Silverstein, who opened 7 W.T.C. two years ago across the street from the largely dormant World Trade Center site.

Richard Resnick, a Staten Island resident who works in Lower Manhattan, took Menin’s comments one step further. He thinks the Port Authority should leave all the rebuilding to the private sector, which acts more quickly and efficiently.

Ward replied that the W.T.C. site is a public works project, including infrastructure like the PATH station, memorial, vehicle security center and utilities. The Port also plans to build the site’s tallest skyscraper, the Freedom Tower.

Another person who wanted to see the government take a smaller role was Paul Stein, who chairs the New York State Public Employees Federation W.T.C. Committee.

Stein thinks that private workers, not public workers, should populate the five new office towers on the site.

“We should not be used as political pawns,” Stein said. “We don’t need more stress, working with what we feel are targets on our backs.”

Many of Lower Manhattan’s state and city employees work in older Class B buildings, and Stein also objected to the government paying high lease rates for space at the Trade Center, a concern also raised by Menin, C.B. 1’s chairperson.

Ward replied that the rates will be competitive for Lower Manhattan and that the towers will have a mix of public and private sector tenants, just like the original towers.

Another public concern was the memorial, which Ward announced earlier this month would not open by the 10th anniversary of the attacks. He sounded more optimistic last week, saying he hoped the memorial’s plaza and the pools filling the tower footprints would be in place by 9/11/11. Still, he said, the timing will be close.

“You can’t simply build the memorial [independent] of connections to the other parts of the site,” Ward said.

Daniels, president of the memorial and museum, called the memorial the “heart” of the Trade Center site (a term that Ward recently applied to the vehicle security center). Daniels likened the 10th anniversary deadline to the centennial of the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 1986. The statue was closed for renovation for several years prior to the centennial, and the renovation was finished under a tight time crunch.

“Missing the date was simply not an option,” Daniels said. “The 9/11/11 date takes on the same singular importance. With the right focus, this important goal can be met.”

The one piece of concrete good news Ward offered was that the Port Authority is close to resolving its dispute with St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church over a piece of land across the street from the site. Ward did not detail the agreement, which he said was in its final stages, but it would remove one obstacle standing in the way of the delayed vehicle security center. The more immediate obstacle to building the center is the damaged Deutsche Bank building, which Ward expects will be dismantled before next June.

Michael Connolly, a C.B. 1 member, asked what is happening with the performing arts center. The city has not decided when fundraising will start or who will be in charge of it, and work on the PAC cannot start until the Santiago Calatrava-designed PATH station opens, which won’t happen for at least another several years.

“It seems to have been forgotten,” Connolly said of the PAC.

Schick replied that of the $55 million the L.M.D.C. allocated for the PAC, $5 million has been spent on planning and Frank Gehry’s design, with the balance tucked away for whenever the project moves forward.

“It’s not going to get you a building, but it’s certainly a place to start from,” Schick said.

No one answered Connolly’s question about when further fundraising would begin. Ward in his report suggested the PAC timetable could be moved up if the Port goes through with an idea to move the PATH temporary entrance again to speed construction on the site.

Another uncertainty is the future of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center on the site. The L.M.C.C.C. currently provides construction logistics information to the Port Authority. Bob Harvey, who runs the command center, said, the agency brings people to the negotiating table. Harvey said he reports to Schick, the L.M.D.C.’s chairperson and the outgoing president of the Empire State Development Corp., and to Dep. Mayor Lieber. After the meeting Harvey said he did not know if his role will change at the site.

“It’s hard to say,” he said.

Ward in his report said that the construction center’s role at the site will likely change and told reporters after last week’s meeting that Harvey will not be reporting only to the Port but “to the stakeholders,” meaning the Port, the mayor’s office, the L.M.D.C., the memorial foundation and Silverstein.

The command center was created by former Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Mike Bloomberg to smooth construction all over Lower Manhattan, and under its charter, the leader is supposed to report directly to the governor and mayor.

The Port Authority, which helps fund the L.M.C.C.C., pledged several weeks ago to give the agency $5 million, which exceeded what the Port currently owed. As of this week, the Port is still finalizing that agreement, said Steve Coleman, an authority spokesperson.

Menin, chairperson of the board, listed funding the L.M.C.C.C. as one of the top 10 issues she believes must be resolved by September. Her list overlapped with the Port Authority’s, but it also included beginning funding for the PAC, attracting community-based retail and building the Fulton St. Transit Center as originally designed.

At the C.B. 1 forum, Hubert Edwards, a Manhattan resident, departed from the discussion of specifics to remind the Port Authority of the big picture.

“You’ve got one shot to get this right,” Edwards said. “If you screw it up, you’re not going to tear it down and start it over.”

Like many at the meeting, Edwards saw the memorial as the most important piece. He urged Daniels not to build a “shopping mall memorial” that glosses over the facts of the attacks.

“When we walk in there, it should hit us right in the heart,” he said.

With reporting by Josh Rogers




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