Volume 22, Number 53 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 14 - 20, 2010
When to close the L.M.D.C.?
It’s never been a question of whether the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation should close, just of when. The old debate is likely to resume in the coming months as the plagued (haunted, tragic?) demolition of the former Deutsche Bank building continues at what appears to be a steady and safe pace.
When the demolition of the building is complete, perhaps by early next year, the city has made it clear it will renew its call to effectively close the L.M.D.C., but keep it open technically for legal reasons.
Mayor Bloomberg suggested this two years ago.
Former Gov. Pataki said the same thing four years ago. At that time, everyone we asked thought it was a good idea. Supporters said the corporation did what it set out to do -- managed the rebuilding plans and disbursed desperately needed funds to help Downtown recover from the attack. Corporation critics said it was ineffective and unresponsive and needed to be closed. But the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the L.M.D.C.’s federal funds, quietly said it wasn’t the right time.
As we have been reporting in recent months the L.M.D.C. still has a lot more money than even people like us, who are still trying to follow the money, realized. There is at least $150 million of what looks to be available money in its utility fund. This week the corporation also said there’s $112 million that’s technically not committed to a specific project. Some of that money does in fact have intended purposes which would be hard to reverse, but on the other hand, some of the “contractually obligated” money will be available, such as the $10 million that was set aside when the Drawing Center was looking for a home in Lower Manhattan. The corporation also could get a lot more money back, most notably from a lawsuit it is certain to file against its contractor, Bovis Lend Lease, which has been managing the demolition of Deutsche and admitted to wrongdoing leading to the deaths of two firefighters battling a blaze there in 2007.
So the question is, who should be in charge of distributing the the rest of the L.M.D.C. money and how should it be done?
The L.M.D.C. is one choice, the mayor another. The governor will also be involved since he shares control of the corporation with the mayor.
This is public money pegged to help Lower Manhattan and so the parties should make their cases to the public.
The mayor, in general, has guided the rebuilding process in the right direction, but his administration has dawdled on issues like the World Trade Center Performing Arts Center and as we report this week, the Downtown affordable housing fund. The L.M.D.C. badly managed the Deutsche demo and has had other problems, but at times it also has shown a better ability than the city to consult with the Downtown community.
Both need to look to the future, explain what the needs are, how they will make the tough funding calls, and how they will watch over and pursue the rest of the money. The same goes for the governor as well as for the candidates to succeed him next year. Given the yawning and immensely threatening state and the city budget deficits, it may very well be that Lower Manhattan’s rebuilding and recovery efforts will best be served by leaving the money with the L.M.D.C.
As for us, we say some of the biggest needs include helping small businesses suffering because of construction and security measures, finding more school space, building the PAC and making sure the East River waterfront improvements are fully built.
That would do a lot to help Lower Manhattan develop completely,