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Portraits of Rebuilding

by Joshua Brustein, Jan 30, 2006
 

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Several weeks after Governor George Pataki, in his State of the State address, spoke with pride about how New York had "established and met an aggressive timetable" for the rebuilding of lower Manhattan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his State of the City address last week, spoke of his impatience at the slow pace of rebuilding: "We need this now!"

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This is not all they see differently. Pataki has stuck by the idea of shoring up the area's status as an international finance center by replacing all the office space lost on 9/11 at Ground Zero. Bloomberg believes that the market for so much office space no longer exists, and that there should be retail stores, residential buildings, and hotels added to the mix to make Lower Manhattan an around-the-clock neighborhood.

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Pataki in his speech credited the success he sees in rebuilding to the spirit of "true New Yorkers" who "dared to transcend the challenges before us"; Bloomberg, however, in his speech seemed to blame what he describes as the failure of the process on a single person: Larry Silverstein.

"We need to push aside individual financial interests and focus on what's best for our city," he said, calling for Larry Silverstein to give up his right to develop the entire site so that it can be built up more quickly.

It is not the first time that egos have clashed over Ground Zero. Indeed, it is possible to view the entire rebuilding process as a shifting parade of personalities. Individuals were symbols from the moment of the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001, when the public was shown "portraits of grief" of each victim, and the world saw the rescue workers as heroes. The people who are now at center stage are those charged with rebuilding the World Trade Center site, and to many New Yorkers, they, too, have become symbols -- symbols of the stagnation, confusion and conflict in the rebuilding process.

Pataki will leave office by the end of 2006. Bloomberg, who hasn't had a large role in rebuilding, now has declared a commitment to getting more involved. The balance of power downtown seems to be changing, and not just at the top. A slew of new board members have been appointed to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and some new architects have been brought aboard. As these newcomers arrive, some of the old hands are either fading away -– or storming off.

Those involved in Ground Zero have conflicting short-term priorities, differing long-term visions, and distinct avenues of power available to them to accomplish their goals. How they interact will make a major difference in what happens over the next year, and what Ground Zero looks like years from now.

GOVERNOR GEORGE PATAKI…

Governor George Pataki has been in charge of development at Ground Zero for four years. He has until the end of 2006 to leave his mark on the site.

For the last four years, Governor George Pataki has held formal control over the rebuilding process, and has chosen to associate himself closely with what is happening at Ground Zero. As a result, many blame the governor for the lack of progress.

But Pataki wrapped up his State of the State speech by celebrating what gains have been made.

For good news, Pataki first looked beyond the site, noting that $10 billion worth of construction is underway nearby. By the governor's account, 75 large companies and thousands of smaller ones are moving downtown, or staying there. Perhaps most significant is Goldman Saks, which has committed to building its headquarters directly across from Ground Zero, after backing away from the idea last fall.

But Pataki's main focus has been on rebuilding the site of the World Trade Center itself.

…And the Architects

VETERANS

Daniel Libeskind designed the master plan for Ground Zero, but has had only mixed success getting it implemented.


Peter Walker and Michael Arad worked together to design the memorial, which still has major fundraising issues to overcome.

David Childs has designed – and redesigned – the Freedom Tower. Because of security concerns, the current design is far removed from what was initially proposed.

Of all the architects involved in rebuilding, Santiago Calatrava has had the easiest time. His transportation hub has provoked little controversy, and is going ahead on schedule.

Since the Twin Towers were destroyed in 2001, world famous architects have flocked to the site. But most of their projects have been bogged down. Almost two years after the ceremonial start of construction, it is hard to find evidence of much actual building. Of all the big plans, only 7 World Trade Center has made progress significant enough to be noticed by the untrained eye.

Daniel Libeskind was selected to become the master planner in a high profile international design competition, but lost his bid to design the Freedom Tower. Since then, his master plan has seemed to become ever less central to the site's actual development. Today, the guidelines that he was supposed to develop for architects building towers on the site have yet to be put in place, threatening to marginalize his concept for the site permanently.

David Childs has the distinction of being the one architect to design a building that has been built at Ground Zero -– 7 World Trade Center. But he too has run into problems. His design for Freedom Tower was declared unsafe by the New York Police Department, and the building was redesigned to sit on top of a windowless, concrete block ten stories high.

The only part of the rebuilding project that has gone smoothly is the transportation hub. Its architect, Santiago Calatrava, has been working with the Port Authority, and his plan is quietly moving ahead on schedule.

The memorial has caused considerable controversy, but so far has avoided a drastic redesign. It is not without problems, however, the most immediate being funding. The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation is in charge of a $500 million fundraising campaign, and is scheduled to take over responsibility for the memorial from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation once it moves from the planning stages to construction.

That does not mean the memorial is a done deal, though. While it has yet to undergo a major rethinking, experiences with the Freedom Tower and, even more drastically, the planned cultural center, show how quickly things downtown can change.

NEWCOMERS:

Norman Foster is the newest addition to a lengthy roster of famous architects working on the site. He has been commissioned to design an office tower for Larry Silverstein.

Frank Gehry is supposedly designing a cultural building for Ground Zero, but it is uncertain that the project will go through. Last fall, he described the project's position as "precarious"

Gretchen Dykstra heads up the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, which is in charge of constructing and maintaining the Ground Zero memorial.

… And Culture and the 9/11 Families

Debra Burlingame, whose brother died on 9/11, played a major role in striking down plans for a Ground Zero cultural center with an opinion piece she wrote for the Wall Street Journal. The campaign that followed showed the continued clout of organized groups of family members of 9/11 victims.

Tom Bernstein's idea for an International Freedom Center for Ground Zero was shot down last fall. He quickly declared the center out of business.

Bernstein's business partner at Chelsea Piers, Roland Betts (who is most famously a long-time friend of George W. Bush), resigned from the board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation over the conflict surrounding culture on the site, saying the board's "ongoing role has been severely marginalized"

The original plan for Ground Zero placed a heavy emphasis on cultural development. Then Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal last June objecting to what she saw as the inappropriate political message being promoted on the site. The article inspired others who felt the same way to mount a campaign against the International Freedom Center and the Drawing Center, the arts institutions that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation had invited to move to Ground Zero.

Responding to such pressure, Pataki effectively forced the two institutions from the site last fall. This brought into question whether culture will continue to be a part of the project. The planned cultural center has been redesigned. It is now to take up less than a third of its original size, and is being described as a visitors' orientation center.

This change has earned the governor some harsh criticism.

“The promise of culture at ground zero was in many ways the boldest part of the master plan for the site," wrote Eleanor Randolph and Verlyn Klinkenborg of the New York Times editorial board. "It took courage to propose it, and it would have taken courage to sustain it. Instead we have watched that courage drain away over the past year."

… And the Next Governor

Many are beginning to wonder what Eliot Spitzer – or whoever the next governor will be – wants from Ground Zero.

Governor Pataki's is planning to run for president in 2008, and lack of visible progress would be an enormous political liability. There is the widespread expectation that he will put a high priority on getting tangible progress started on both the Freedom Tower and the memorial. But some fear that the governor, feeling the need to get something – anything – built by the time he leaves office, will make damaging sacrifices in the name of speed.

But some are already looking ahead to Ground Zero post-Pataki. The New York Post has already fired the first shot across the bow of the man many see as the frontrunner to become governor next year, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Steve Cuozzo criticizes Spitzer for his public spat with Lower Manhattan Development Corporation chairman John Whitehead. "The harm he's done to replacing the World Trade Center" by picking a fight with Whitehead, writes Cuozzo, "is incalculable."

For his part, Spitzer has said little about his ideas for lower Manhattan. But as the end of Pataki's term nears, it is something more and more people seem interested in.

"Certainly you hear more and more people saying 'what does Eliot want from Ground Zero?'" said David Kallick of the Fiscal Policy Institute.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG …

Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants a bigger role in the rebuilding at Ground Zero, and his ideas differ from those of the governor..

While Pataki has been held accountable for the lackluster development at Ground Zero to date, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been criticized for not getting more involved. But Bloomberg's approach is changing, and as it does it is becoming clear that the mayor sees Ground Zero differently than the governor. While Pataki has focused his attention on the large-scale and the iconic, Bloomberg seems more interested in what happens at the street level and what the smaller towers planned for the site are used for.

… And the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation

THE MAYOR'S APPOINTEES:

Daniel Doctoroff, deputy mayor for economic development, previously served at the mayor's liaison on the board.

Amanda Burden is the head of the city's planning department, a role that will likely be important in decisions about whether to close streets planned for Ground Zero.

Marc Shaw was Bloomberg's deputy mayor for operations. He has since moved into the private sector but remains on the board.

Martha E. Stark (left) is the mayor's director of finance.

William Rudin (right) is the chairman of the Association for a Better new York.

Lawrence Babbio, Jr. is the vice-chairman and president of Verizon..

In the last year, several members of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation have left, leaving Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki with open spaces to fill.

Bloomberg did so immediately after his reelection. The mayor appointed four members of his administration and two business leaders, while the governor appointed two high level state officials.

THE GOVERNOR'S APPOINTEES:

Charles Gargano is the chair of the Empire State Development Corporation, the parent of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation


James Kallstrom is the governor's senior counterterrorism advisor

Bloomberg's appointments were "a political change of the highest order," said Ric Bell, head of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects,

At the same time, however, Mayor Bloomberg questioned whether the corporation really makes a difference. This is a view that has been expressed at times from everyone from the governor to the civic groups involved in the redevelopment of lower Manhattan. The board has not been able to gain much independence from Governor Pataki, and has been shot down on the few occasions it has tried. Further, the corporation's power seems likely to decrease as time goes on.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation was established soon after 9/11 to preside over the planning process at Ground Zero, and was also given $2.7 billion in federal funding to distribute to encourage post 9/11 economic development. It was intended to be temporary. Most of that money has been given away; there is only $300 million left. Of that, only about $45 million generally dedicated to economic development in lower Manhattan has not been earmarked for specific projects.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation also has limited funding left for operating costs, and it is likely nearing the end of its life. It will be a major player until that time, however, believes Petra Todorovich of the Regional Plan Association.

"When an organization has an end date, it has lessened relevance," she said. "But the [corporation] has some important work ahead of it."

… And the Rest of his Administration

Like the mayor, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has an important bully pulpit. His concerns about security at the Freedom Tower forced that building to be redesigned.

Mayor Bloomberg does not have the formal power over Ground Zero that the governor does. But there are other ways, both formal and informal, for the city to assert itself in lower Manhattan.

First off is the mayor's ability to draw attention. Presumably, any sustained public effort by Bloomberg could change the course of development at Ground Zero.

Another public office that comes with a powerful bully pulpit is that of police commissioner. Raymond Kelly, who currently holds the position, stopped development of the Freedom Tower in its tracks when he decided last year that the building's design was unsafe. Immediately, plans were redrawn to address his security concerns.

Finally, the city holds formal power over its streets. The planning department also has to sign off on street closings. Currently, the Port Authority wants to change the plan to extend Cordlandt Street through the site, building an enclosed mall in its place. To do so, the authority will have to get commissioner (and LMDC board member) Amanda Burden's approval. City planning has opposed the idea.

LARRY SILVERSTEIN AND THE PORT AUTHORITY

Larry Silverstein says he has a obligation to rebuild office space at Ground Zero, and the money to do it. But he is under increasing pressure to share the space with other developers.

Anthony Coscia and the Port Authority have asked that Silverstein give up control of part of the site in exchange for lower rent.

Larry Silverstein has been a fixture at Ground Zero since he acquired the development rights to the World Trade Center soon before it was destroyed. Because his contract obligates him to rebuild the office space lost in the attack – and because he has billions of dollars from insurance to do so – Silverstein thinks he should be allowed to rebuild the entire site.

Others disagree, including both Mayor Bloomberg and the Port Authority. In December 2005, Bloomberg decided against granting Silverstein the remaining $3.5 billion pot of Liberty Bonds, tax-free bonds allocated for downtown development.

Pataki stepped in and granted Silverstein half of the bonds, but said Silverstein and the Port Authority – which owns the site – would have to work out their problems in 90 days (which would put the deadline in March). The Port Authority and Silverstein differ on how much he will receive in development fees, who will pay for infrastructure at the trade center site, and what will happen on the sites of three planned towers.

Bloomberg says that Silverstein is holding up progress by insisting he can develop the entire site. The developer should cede control over two of the five towers that are included in the official plan for the site. By doing so, Silverstein would be able to focus on building the other three towers quickly –- and the Port Authority would reduce his rent. Other developers could then immediately build a mixture of retail, commercial, residential and hotel use that Silverstein is uninterested in building himself.

The Port Authority has already floated this idea to Silverstein, who rejected it several months ago. He argues that infrastructure is not in place to build up the site today. Some agree, and criticize Bloomberg for placing too much of the blame for the lack of progress on the developer. Some have flinched at the city essentially calling for Silverstein to be stripped of his legal rights because he doesn't agree with the mayor. Others fear that Bloomberg is going to slow down the process by bringing in the last thing the site needs –- more people.

 




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