Volume 22, Number 10 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 17 - 23, 2009

Construction on the World Trade Center’s proposed Performing Arts Center could not begin for six years at its current location, but the center may move to Tower 5, where construction could begin sooner.

Arts center might swing over to the south side

By Julie Shapiro

The long-delayed Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center site is making a comeback.

A new proposal would rescue the PAC from the tangle of infrastructure in the middle of the Trade Center site and plunk it down where the Deutsche Bank building currently stands. The move would allow construction on the PAC to begin far earlier than previously contemplated.

“It’s something we ought to consider that could advance [the current] timetable by several years,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who held a private meeting on the PAC last week. “It’s certainly something I’m glad I was able to put out to the community.”

The arts center was slated to go on the north side of the site, at Vesey and Greenwich Sts. The temporary PATH entrance occupies that location now, so construction on the performing arts center there could not begin until at least 2015, when the new PATH station opens and the temporary entrance is demolished. Some fear it will take even longer.

But the Deutsche Bank site could be available as soon as this winter, when the contaminated skyscraper comes down. The Deutsche Bank site was once earmarked for JPMorgan Chase, which was going to build Tower 5 there, but that deal fell through when Chase acquired Bear Stearns’ opulent Midtown headquarters toward the beginning of the financial meltdown early last year. Since then, the Port Authority has contemplated building a condo-hotel tower on the site, because demand for more offices Downtown is slim.

The impetus for Silver’s meeting came partly from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which is working on a feasibility study about moving the PAC to Tower 5. Several people who attended the meeting said the move looked doable, because the two sites are similar in size. It is unclear whether the PAC would be a stand-alone building or whether it would go in the base of a mixed-use tower.

A change to the W.T.C. site’s master plan would require approval from many parties, including the Port Authority, which owns the Trade Center site. Port Spokesperson Steve Sigmund said the Port would look into the move. Two community members who met with Port executive director Chris Ward several weeks ago said he appeared to support finding a new home for the PAC so it could open sooner. Moving the arts building could reduce the complications of building the transit center, which will also be near infrastructure related to the memorial and offices.

The city has not been briefed on the potential PAC move, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said.

Silver said moving the PAC to Tower 5 has many advantages. In addition to the Tower 5 site being available sooner, the PAC could reuse the Deutsche Bank building’s foundation, saving time and money. Building the PAC on Vesey St., on the other hand, would be more difficult because of the subway running beneath it, along with the other belowground infrastructure.

Saving money is important, because fundraising for the PAC has not begun and it is unclear who will raise the money. The project has received $55 million from the L.M.D.C. but will need a combination of public and private donations to get off the ground.

The building’s design is also unclear. Frank Gehry is supposed to design the building, but his initial idea for a space for two arts groups was deemed too expensive several years ago, forcing one group out of the plan. Fundraising and design plans have continued to be delayed because the construction of the PAC was seen as being very far off.

Silver said the only potential downside of moving the PAC is that it would leave a hole in the Trade Center site near the memorial. Michelle Breslauer, a memorial spokesperson, said it’s important to have culture at the site but she did not take a position on whether the PAC should be moved. Some renderings of the Trade Center site produced by the Port Authority have shown a grassy field in place of the arts center.

Several people said L.M.D.C. chairperson Avi Schick was the one who came up with the idea to move the PAC to Tower 5, but an L.M.D.C. spokesperson declined to comment. Last year, Schick suggested moving the PAC to the Fulton Transit Center, a subway hub that was then stalled and out of money. The community did not support that idea, but there appears to be broad support for this PAC move.

“It’s very exciting,” said Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1. “It’s high time that this occur.”

Menin has long suggested putting some performing arts space in one of the W.T.C. office towers, just to get the PAC off the back burner. Menin said it makes financial sense to put the PAC in the base of Tower 5, because it would save a future developer some money on the building, and the developer could buy naming rights for the center to help fund it.

Joyce Theater, a Soho and Chelsea dance company, is the last remaining tenant slated for the performing arts center, after political pressures pushed out two others and then cost considerations evicted Signature Theatre . Menin would like to see other tenants added, including big names like New York City Opera, which previously tried to move into the W.T.C.

A Joyce spokesperson did not return calls for comment.

Silver said the proposal to move the PAC is still in its infancy, but he will hold more meetings as the details grow clearer.

Michael Connolly, a Community Board 1 member who has been trying to keep the PAC in the limelight for years, was also happy with the recent progress.

“This is really good news,” Connolly said after Silver’s meeting, which he attended. “It’s vital to get the PAC built as soon as possible.”






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