Volume 17 • Issue 25 | Nov. 12 - Nov. 19, 2004


Following the L.M.D.C.’s money

This week the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation identified $44.5 million it intends to use to buy the parcel of land at 140 Liberty St., across the street from the World Trade Center site. The $2.8 billion in federal money the agency once had is now down to about $820 million and there are still many worthy projects waiting in line.

L.M.D.C. chairperson John Whitehead said Wednesday that there is a danger in making decisions too quickly — he is right about that. The L.M.D.C. does not have enough money to fulfill all of Downtown’s needs and committing funds to one project before more details are known about it and its competing proposals could lead to bad decisions.

There is another danger and that is making money decisions before the public has a real opportunity to weigh the pros and cons. Congress and President Bush approved this public money in 2001 to help Lower Manhattan rebuild from the economic devastation of the Sept. 11 attacks. Gov. George Pataki created the agency as a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation and later agreed to give Mayor Bloomberg the same number of appointments to the L.M.D.C. board as Pataki.

Connie Fishman, president of the Hudson River Park Trust, and Amanda Burden, chairperson of the City Planning Commission, have said they expect large sums of money soon from the L.M.D.C. to pay for improvements to the Hudson and East River waterfronts. We have said before that both projects probably deserve L.M.D.C. money, but we find it disturbing that these government leaders are apparently receiving quiet assurances before the L.M.D.C. debates it out in public.

At other times in its short history the L.M.D.C. has made commendable efforts to solicit public opinion and it should not shy away now that the differences are over money.

With the dwindling pot, state and city officials are fighting and negotiating behind the scenes for the best way to spend the money. The curtain should be raised now so the people can participate more in the discussions.

Recently two Downtown politicians — who up until now have held back from joining the dump-on-the L.M.D.C. activist crowd — have sharpened their criticisms of the agency. Councilmember Alan Gerson delivered a report with L.M.D.C. spending recommendations, based on extensive community input. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Wednesday that he is worried too much money is going to be turned over to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for infrastructure costs to support offices at the World Trade Center site. We share the concerns of both pols.

Infrastructure for offices are costs that clearly are the P.A.’s responsibility, but the L.M.D.C. will have to invest some money on the W.T.C. memorial and cultural center. With the pressing need for affordable housing, waterfront and park improvements, a new school and community center, projects to improve Chinatown and Fulton St., some things may have to give.

Details and more precise cost estimates are needed for all of those projects, but there is nothing to stop the L.M.D.C. from releasing more information so the public can join the debate. Democracy may be messy and inefficient, but it beats everything else.

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