Volume 17 • Issue 27 | Nov. 26 - Dec. 02, 2004

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Visitors enjoyed the Tribeca section of the Hudson River Park Sunday. The next day, Gov. Pataki announced the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. would provide money to repair some of the park’s decaying piers and add plant life to the area.

Green light for Hudson Park green, Pataki says

By Josh Rogers

Gov. George Pataki said Monday during his semi-annual report on Downtown’s post-9/11 progress that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation will fund the Tribeca section of the Hudson River Park.

Officials have been saying for months that $70 million from the L.M.D.C. was likely, but the Hudson River Park Trust’s president, Connie Fishman, said she did not hear for sure that some money was coming until just before Pataki’s Nov. 22 speech at the Ritz-Carlton in Battery Park City, site of all four of the governor’s Lower Manhattan progress speeches.

Fishman said more discussions with the L.M.D.C. are needed as to what and how much the Pataki-created agency is funding, but the governor’s announcement means construction on the delayed project could begin by the middle of next year under the most optimistic schedule.

She said as Downtown’s residential population continues to increase, better park spaces for families are needed.

“They need a place to play as well as a place to work and the riverfront is the best and most easily accessible place available,” Fishman said in a telephone interview.

The project has the support of Community Board 1, Councilmember Alan Gerson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who asked the L.M.D.C. to fund the park at the agency’s board meeting two weeks ago.

At his speech before the Association for a Better New York (abny), Pataki said: “Through funding from the L.M.D.C., we will be able to complete the Tribeca section of the five-mile, 550-acre [park] and provide the community with even more recreational space and access to the river.”

He also announced that he and Mayor Mike Bloomberg had signed executive orders setting up the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center to manage and coordinate all of the Downtown construction projects planned over the next six years; that all four of the living ex-presidents had agreed to serve as honorary members of the foundation to raise money for the World Trade Center memorial; and that the dismantling of the contaminated Deutsche Bank building across from the W.T.C. site would begin in December.

As for the Tribeca section of the Hudson River Park, the plan includes rebuilding all 1,000 or so feet of Pier 25 for a children’s play area, volleyball courts and a mini-golf course, and about 900 feet of Pier 26 with a marine study center, kayak center, large plants, and a green lawn. The piers already host many of those uses, but they are deteriorating and permanent structures need to be built to replace them.

Fishman said about half the park’s costs are to rebuild the piers. The plan also includes trees and plants off of the piers and a bird sanctuary viewing area near Canal St. The recently opened tennis courts will remain near Spring St., but the skateboard park may be moved to a nearby location, Fishman said.

After the L.M.D.C. board approves funds for the park, she said it will likely take between four and six months to get the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development to issue final environmental and funding approval. HUD has final say on all development corporation money, which was approved by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks.

It will take about 2 1/2 years to build the Tribeca section. Fishman said the Trust will work out a construction phasing plan and that some of the existing uses on the piers may be able to temporarily relocate. Those uses include Manhattan Youth, which runs afterschool and summer day camp activities on Pier 25, the River Project, which studies marine life at Pier 26 near the Downtown Boathouse, which has kayaking programs.

Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, said he is happy to hear the park will be built, but he hopes construction starts after the summer. “We stand ready to vacate the pier this season or next,” he said. “We prefer next season.”

He said that would give him more time to find other places for outdoor programs such as on Governors Island. Manhattan Youth holds the lease for the pier and during construction will lose space for its programs and about $60,000 in sublease revenues from other groups, Townley said, although he added it is a positive development.

“I’ve always viewed it as no choice because the pilings on the piers are disintegrating,” he said. “Some people will miss the old funkiness of the pier, but probably more people will like the new pier. I think the crowds will increase.”

L.M.D.C. money

The park money will leave less than $800 million in L.M.D.C. funds left over. Pataki said he would work with Mayor Mike Bloomberg to come up with a plan by March on the best way to use the rest of the remaining funds.

“As we develop the allocation plan, we must engage the public so all voices are heard,” Pataki said.

This line is not likely to mollify advocates who have criticized Pataki and the L.M.D.C. for not spending more money on affordable housing and job training programs.

“If the governor at this point does not have a grasp of what the needs of Lower Manhattan are, he’s living in a hole,” said Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York, which has tracked L.M.D.C. expenditures closely.

Damiani said the L.M.D.C. should follow the same public hearing laws required of other Community Development Block Grant allocations. The 9/11-related C.D.B.G. funds do not have the same restrictions as other grants. Typically the L.M.D.C. board votes on spending plans at its public meetings and then solicits comments on the plans on its Web sites and in public notice ads in local papers.

Pataki did not say if there would be more extensive outreach before the final spending plan is unveiled in March and Kevin Rampe, L.M.D.C. president, said that has not yet been decided.

After the 2001 attacks, the agency was granted $2.8 billion of federal money and the largest expenditures to date include $750 million to repair utilities damaged on Sept. 11, 2001, $300 million for a housing subsidy program to encourage residents to move and stay in Lower Manhattan, $225 million to buy the Deutsche Bank building and develop site plans for the complex’s redevelopment, and $200 million for business retention programs.

Damiani said in some cases, the L.M.D.C. and other moneys spent on corporate retention went to companies whose executives were later quoted as saying they were not planning to move out of Downtown.

“We’re giving money away to corporations that say they would have stayed in Lower Manhattan anyway, when the needs of low and moderate income families are being ignored,” she said.

Pataki released a report Monday prepared by Appleseed estimating that L.M.D.C. investments have led to $2.1 billion of economic impact in the short run and will contribute $1.3 billion each year.

The governor said the biggest priority for the remaining L.M.D.C. money was to help pay for the $350 million memorial construction costs, followed by the undetermined W.T.C. cultural building costs. He announced that next week, he, Bloomberg and John Whitehead, L.M.D.C. chairperson, would announce at least 20 members of the memorial foundation to join former Presidents Bush, Clinton, Ford and Carter in the efforts to raise money to build and maintain the memorial.

Other big projects under consideration are improvements to the East River waterfront, along Fulton St., near Chinatown and south of the W.T.C. site.

Construction center

The Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center will coordinate the projects planned south of Canal St. or southwest of Rutgers St. Pataki and Bloomberg will pick an executive director to head the center.

Carl Weisbrod, president of the Downtown Alliance and a L.M.D.C. board member said it’s “critical” for the businesses he represents and for residents to have one place keeping track of all of the government agencies and developers with billions of dollars worth of projects underway.

“It’s absolutely essential to have a full coordination of these various construction projects,” Weisbrod said.

The center is to remain open through 2010 and will oversee all projects in the geographic area that are valued over $25 million and any that require work on Downtown’s streets or highways.

One of the projects the command center will manage is the deconstruction of the Deutsche building. Pataki toured the damaged building after his speech with Amy Peterson, a L.M.D.C. vice president, and George Cavallo, regional director of the Gilbane Building Company, which will oversee the deconstruction.

The governor said that the building will be taken down safely. “It’s not going to be one of these mass explosions,” he said, according to a pool press report. “It’s going to be piece by piece from the inside.”

Pataki also announced:

• His support for rebuilding the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Fiterman Hall, which was damaged in the attacks. Antonio Pérez, the school’s president, told Downtown Express that the school has about $127 million in insurance and Federal Emergency Management Agency money and needs $60 million more for the demolition and reconstruction costs. The college’s board is expected to vote to hire Pei Cobb Freed & Partners to design the new Fiterman.

• Memorial architects Michael Arad, Peter Walker and Max Bond in December will unveil the final model for Arad’s “Reflecting Absence” design for two sunken reflecting pools where the Twin Towers once stood. Arad and Bond walked with Pataki in the memorial area Monday. Arad said later that the access to the memorial from Liberty St. will be decided soon, once a decision is made on where to place the ramp for delivery trucks and tour buses.

• Subway construction on the $750 million Fulton Transit Center and $400 million South Ferry station will begin in December. The Fulton project will begin with the 2,3 lines at Fulton and Nassau Sts. and the south entrance to the 4,5 stop at Maiden Lane and Broadway.

• The environmental study on the $6 billion rail link connecting Lower Manhattan to J.F.K. Airport and the Long Island Rail Road would begin with a week. He said he expected Congress to approve a $2 billion tax transfer to the project sometime next year.

• In his earliest ABNY speeches, Pataki spoke enthusiastically about the plan to build a vehicular tunnel near the W.T.C. and under West St., but the project is opposed by many residents and on Monday the governor only mentioned “a revitalized West St.” which could or could not include a tunnel.

• Pataki made several mentions of the Freedom Tower but unlike in other speeches, he did not say anything about the height of the first tower that will be rebuilt at the site. W.T.C. site architect Daniel Libeskind had proposed a symbolic height of 1,776 feet back in 2002 and Pataki later named it the Freedom Tower. When the building’s cornerstone was laid July 4, 2004, aides to Larry Silverstein, the tower’s developer, said the building may not be precisely 1,776 feet. Asked after Monday’s speech whether it would be 1,776 feet, Silverstein had a simple answer: “Yes.”


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