Every billion helps rebuilding
This weeks jury decision awarding World Trade Center site leaseholder Larry Silverstein an extra $1.1 billion in insurance money is unequivocal good news for Lower Manhattan. Leaving aside the legal merits of whether or not the events of Sept. 11 represented one or two attacks on the Twin Towers, Silversteins first court victory on this question means we are more likely to have less time to look at the hole in the ground that is often called ground zero.
Silverstein should have $4.65 billion in insurance money to help him rebuild five office towers at the World Trade Center site. With over $3 billion in tax-free Liberty Bonds still available to him, rebuilding the site seems within reach.
The additional insurance money should also reduce the amount of public money that will be spent at the W.T.C. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, owners of the site and Silversteins landlord, is negotiating with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation over how much each agency will pay for the W.T.C. infrastructure to support the offices, train center, memorial and cultural buildings. Silverstein in essence will own the offices with a long-term lease, so he should pay some.
The L.M.D.C. money is part of the dwindling pot of federal, post-9/11 funds. With only about $800 million left and many unfulfilled priorities left, the L.M.D.C. nevertheless has kept open the possibility it would use some of its remaining Community Development Block Grant for the underground equipment for the offices at the W.T.C. In addition, the Port is insisting the L.M.D.C. pick up the costs connected to the memorial and cultural buildings such as the ramps for tour buses bringing visitors to the site.
This is backwards thinking. Instead of the Port paying some money to help support the memorial and cultural center, it is looking for community development money from the L.M.D.C. to support the offices. L.M.D.C. money and private donations will have to be used to build the non-commercial space at the site, but it is not unreasonable to ask the P.A., the agency that owns the office land, to kick in too.
Creating the demand for an additional 10 million square feet of office space at the W.T.C. depends largely on building the Santiago Calatrava train station and a rail link to the Long Island Rail Road and J.F.K. Airport, but the memorial and cultural buildings are also part of the equation. We can envision a day not too far off in the future when a vibrant cultural center and an inspirational and fitting memorial will make the offices more desirable and thus more valuable. Moreover, the expensive ramp system will also be for delivery trucks to the offices, not just the tourist buses.
These will be difficult dilemmas to resolve but putting $1.1 billion more into the mix does make it a little easier.
Its still the fall and some days it even still feels like it, but Hanukkah began this week and Christmas is only a few weeks away. With the holiday season upon us, its important to remember that there are plenty of wonderful stores in Lower Manhattan to find everything from home furnishings to toys to clothing to jewelry to electronics to just about everything else. Small business owners continue to feel the economic effects of 9/11 and we encourage you to shop Downtown. Stop in for a meal nearby when youre done. The culinary offerings in Lower Manhattan are truly extraordinary, and restaurants need your business too.