Volume 16 • Issue 48 | APRIL 23-29, 2004

One billion dollars worth of decisions
About $1 billion is left from the federal Community Development Block Grants that Congress and President Bush authorized to help Lower Manhattan recover from the aftershocks of Sept. 11, 2001. There are many projects deserving of some C.D.B.G. money and most can be funded with relatively modest sums. It’s triage time, and here’s how we think it should be spent.

There are three uses that warrant expenditures of more than $100 million of community development money. Two of them, affordable housing and park improvements along the East and Hudson Rivers, certainly deserve to be funded. We support spending up to a third of C.D.B.G. money on the third, a one-seat rail link to J.F.K. Airport and the Long Island Rail Road, provided that the benefits of the link are proven to be as promising as we believe they are and the development grant investment will either make the difference in getting the link built or allow for a significant improvement in the quality of the connection. 

Two other projects, although modest in dollars, are essential and must be funded. One is a new K-8 school to accommodate Lower Manhattan’s expanding population and relieve its already overcrowded schools. The other is a major cultural center in Chinatown, a neighborhood that was struggling before 9/11 and because of that, has had an even harder time recovering. If other ways can be found to fund these two projects, that would be better, but if not, about $100 million could finance most if not all of the money needed for both.

Many of the other projects endorsed by Community Board 1 on Tuesday are also deserving of a modest amount of funds. Recreation center space, a library, and improving Fulton St. are three that are on the top of our list too.
There are also ways to get more money. The renovation of South Ferry subway station is a nice idea, but it will have limited economic benefits Downtown and the M.T.A. has been extremely fuzzy on the potential commuter-time savings of this plan. The agency should find its own capital money to finance the renovation, rather than squandering $450 million of the money Congress approved to help Lower Manhattan. Gov. George Pataki should show some bold leadership and political clout and shift the South Ferry money to the rail link.

The governor has also said that he thinks his good friend in Washington D.C., President George W. Bush, will provide more money for Lower Manhattan than the original $21.4 billion package. Bush will be accepting the Republican presidential nomination in September in New York City and it is up to Pataki to make his opinion about more money a reality before then, while the governor’s leverage is strongest.

And although we continue to think there are benefits in building a vehicular tunnel under West St., whatever they may be the benefits are not worth the $900 million cost given the other priorities and a shrinking pot of money. West St. tunnel money should also be shifted to the rail link.

The link will provide the first new train service to Downtown in more than 70 years and will encourage businesses to locate in a revitalized and newly connected Downtown, which will create long term jobs for people of many different income levels. It is vital to the entire community of Lower Manhattan – businesses and residents.

Affordable housing is a pressing need Downtown, particularly since the federal Liberty Bond program appears to have had the unintended affect of reducing the number of below market rate apartments that have been built. Downtown’s two rivers are among its greatest resources and provide the only opportunity to add significant amounts of park space to Lower Manhattan.

Spend $1 billion wisely and we’ll be on our way to what almost all of us want: a vibrant, diverse, beautiful, strong community attractive to businesses, families and visitors from all over the world.

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