Volume 22, Number 10 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 17 - 23, 2009
Glimmers of hope at the W.T.C.
There is not a lot of good news about the World Trade Center site lately and for that matter, there hasn’t been all that much for eight years. The stalled talks between the Port Authority and developer Larry Silverstein are the current source of most of the angst, but things might be ready to begin turning for the better. Although the two sides are not talking much and remain far apart, the Port took an important step at the end of last week by offering some financial backing to Silverstein to help him build Tower 2, which is at the crux of the dispute.
Until now the two sides have been talking past each other. The Port had not been willing to help Silverstein build the tower, and Silverstein as well as the city have not given much thought to the Port’s alternative rebuilding plans because they remain convinced the alternatives won’t work financially or logistically. The Port’s latest offer could finally move the negotiations to a point where people are talking about the same thing. If the debate becomes only about dollars, it becomes easier to resolve because neither side is trying to force a plan on the other.
Of course easier doesn’t mean easy. Both sides said they are willing to return to the mediation talks, but have not done so. Led by Mayor Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, these talks offer the best hope of getting out of this mess and limiting the number of disagreements in the future. There is no reason why the talks can’t continue while the expected arbitration proceedings begin next week. The arbitration, which is to determine whether the Port has violated the current agreement, will take several months as the two sides argue about the past. They also can be talking about the future with the mediators and both sides should return to the table immediately.
The Port has now offered to guarantee $1.2 billion financing for Tower 2 if Silverstein can secure $625 million. In today’s credit market that does not seem possible, but Silverstein can likely put more money in, and he can definitely sweeten the deal and offer more equity in the towers on the back end. He has already gotten most of his money back on his W.T.C. investment so the Port, a public authority, would be entitled to the big payday down the road if it stepped in and took the risk when no one else could. It seems like a deal can be had if both sides can seize the fact that this project cannot be locked in the normal real-estate cost benefit gridlock, but recognize that they have an opportunity to rebuilt an iconic site that will make New Yorkers and Americans proud. Both parties need to think bolder. This project will not fail, and it’s time to invest serious resources.
A possible breakthrough in the money talks is not the only hopeful sign at the W.T.C. As we report this week, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. is looking into jumpstarting the long-ago-proposed, and long-forgotten Performing Arts Center, by moving it to the Tower 5 site. At the current proposed location, the PAC is so far away from construction that no one in power is likely to think it about again for at least five years, if ever.
An arts center will add some hope to a site of such tragedy. It’s not a bad time to dwell on the signs of hope at the World Trade Center.