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

Show me the money,
Silver says at L.M.D.C. meeting

By Josh Rogers

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver warned Lower Manhattan Development Corp. board members not to transfer any money to the Port Authority until they fund more projects for residents and businesses, and he asked them to speak up about the threat West Side development poses to the Downtown economy.

Silver, Albany’s most powerful Democrat, addressed the L.M.D.C. board Wednesday at its monthly meeting, across the street from the World Trade Center site. He said improvements needed to be made quickly in order to attract firms to the offices being constructed, which in turn will draw more retail for residents.

He criticized the numerous ceremonies to mark milestones in Downtown’s redevelopment, which may have been a veiled swipe at the L.M.D.C.’s creator, Gov. George Pataki. “Ceremonial shovels and ceremonial hard hats… aren’t attracting any businesses,” said Silver, whose district is in Lower Manhattan.

The L.M.D.C. has about $820 million left in federal, post-9/11 funds and Silver called on the agency to support things like schools, libraries, Chinatown projects and to spend $70 million to build the Tribeca section of the Hudson River Park.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey owns the WT.C. and is looking for L.M.D.C. money to help pay for the substantial underground costs to support the proposed memorial, cultural center and offices.

Both Kevin Rampe, L.M.D.C. president, and a Port Authority spokesperson said separately that there has been “no formal request” for money from the P.A. There have been discussions though. Rampe said Thursday it is too early to know whether L.M.D.C. money will be used for office infrastructure.

Roland Betts, who heads the development corporation’s site planning committee, said in July that projects such as the ones Silver and others are proposing are “nibbling away” at the money that will be needed for office building infrastructure.

“There’s no fat in the L.M.D.C. monies and the remaining money is going to be needed for the World Trade Center site,” Betts said at the July 8 corporation meeting.

Dep. Mayor Daniel Doctoroff said after the July meeting that the L.M.D.C. will probably spend a few hundred million dollars on infrastructure for the memorial and cultural center, but not for the offices. The mayor and governor have an equal number of appointments to the L.M.D.C. and Doctoroff leads the city’s negotiations over L.M.D.C. money.

Steve Coleman, the Port Authority spokesperson, said 75 percent of the “extremely high cost” of the elaborate underground ramp system for tourist buses and delivery trucks are for the memorial and cultural buildings. “There are outstanding infrastructure costs that have to be resolved,” he said.

Silver, during his speech, said the Port Authority should account for all of the 9/11 related money it has received so far, including L.M.D.C. money. A Silver spokesperson later said he was mistaken, and the L.M.D.C. had not yet given money to the Port.

Coleman said the Port has received $1.7 billion in federal transportation money and $300 million in insurance payments, all of which will be used for the $2 billion transportation hub designed by Santiago Calatrava. The agency also gets $109 million a year from developer Larry Silverstein who owns the W.T.C. office leasing rights.

But costs to the New York-New Jersey agency have increased dramatically, Coleman said. The money from Silverstein is used at the site or to pay for the agency’s temporary offices needed to replace the ones at One W.T.C. Post-9/11 security costs have jumped from $200 million to $300 million, and the agency expects to invest another $500 million for security throughout its system in New York and New Jersey. The city is also getting $700 million from the Port for use of the two city airports and the agency has committed to spending $560 million on a Lower Manhattan connection to J.F.K. Airport and the Long Island Rail Road, a project Silver endorsed in his speech.

Silver said unless there are more improvements Downtown, Silverstein will not be able to find commercial tenants for the two buildings he’s constructing, 7 W.T.C. and the Freedom Tower, and it will further delay construction of the other W.T.C. offices.

John Whitehead, L.M.D.C. chairperson, said he was more optimistic about Downtown’s prospects, but he told Silver that he had a point.

“There is still a long road to go,” Whitehead said. “There are many favorable signs now that things are coming back.”

Whitehead said he agreed with Silver’s goals for spending money for residents and businesses, but he said officials had to be careful with limited resources. “Every day the situation changes,” he said. “Every day the priorities keep changing. Deciding too rapidly is more dangerous than deciding too slowly.”

Last month Whitehead hinted that more money for the Hudson River Park was only a month away, but the board did not take any action on the funding request at this week’s meeting.

Silver also asked the L.M.D.C. to speak out against the city-state plan to build offices near the West Side’s Hudson Yards in order to finance a stadium for the Jets and the Olympics, expand the Javits Convention Center and extend the No. 7 subway line.

“There’s no question that the expanded Javits Center is something we should do,” Silver told reporters after the meeting. “I think the jury is still out on the rest of the plan and the commercial space.”

He said the city should not encourage offices on the West Side, until Downtown’s redevelopment is secure.

Board members did not respond to Silver’s comments on the West Side plan, but Dep. Mayor Doctoroff, the project’s biggest champion, was at the meeting and spoke afterward. He said the first office on the West Side won’t be built until 2010 after most of the W.T.C. offices will already be built, and the two projects will not compete.

“It is critical that the city offer a variety of products to its office-using customers,” said Doctoroff. Thousands of jobs were lost to New Jersey in the late ‘90s because of limited office space, he said, and the city has to be prepared for real estate booms in the future.

Doctoroff acknowledged Silver’s power to block the West Side plan, and said negotiations will continue. “We’ve got to work with him on every issue,” he said. “It’s not just the far West Side.”

The deputy mayor said he shared Silver’s support for the Hudson River Park and was looking for ways to finish construction.

The L.M.D.C. may end up paying for the park, but it will likely have to do it with about $45.8 million less. At its Wednesday meeting, the board set aside $44.5 million to acquire the 140 Liberty St. parcel and $1.27 million for LowerManhattan.info, a well-trafficked Web site with Downtown information. If the payments are ultimately approved by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, the L.M.D.C. will have about $820 million left.

The Liberty St. land is owned by Milstein Properties and is part of the W.T.C. redevelopment plan. George Arzt, Milstein’s spokesperson, said the company is negotiating with the Port Authority and had no further comment.

The L.M.D.C.’s Rampe said if the issue is not resolved in a few months officials would consider taking the property over. “I would estimate an early ’05 timeframe before we move forward with any eminent domain procedure,” he said.

It is Milstein’s second Downtown takeover threat in recent months. The city was considering acquiring Milstein’s 250 Water St. property to build a pre K—8 school, but has backed off some and now is looking to build the school as part of the Ratner-NYU Downtown Hospital residential proposal for the hospital’s adjacent parking lot.


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