Where We Are And Where We're GoingBy John Whitehead
Three months ago when the Governor asked me to become head of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, we had no staff, no money, and no office. Now we have all three. We have a staff headed by President Lou Tomson that will eventually number between 20 and 25. We have office space at one Liberty Plaza, which overlooks the World Trade Center site. And the federal government has been kind enough to place $2 billion in our hands.
The Governor and then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani created the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in the aftermath of September 11th. Our mission has been and continues to be to help plan and coordinate the rebuilding and revitalization of Lower Manhattan, generally defined as everything south of Houston Street.
We're almost seven months now after the September 11th disaster, and tragic as it was and tremendous as the damage has been, I believe that significant progress has been made. We've really passed the turning point and things are starting to come back.
The recovery and clean-up operation at the site is moving ahead of schedule. It was originally thought that it would take a year. Now it looks like eight months, with the cleanup perhaps ending as early as late May.
The MTA has done a wonderful job restoring subway service to downtown Manhattan. Seven of the eleven subway stations that were out of action on the various lines are now back in operation, with three more important stations reopening in November of this year. The PATH Terminal and the tunnel underground across the river to New Jersey are being restored and will be completed well before the end of next year.
New York Waterways has just announced it has doubled the number of ferries since September 11th and it will double again in the next several months. When all the plans are put into effect 60,000 people, most of them from New Jersey, will be able to cross the river by ferry to two stops on the Manhattan side, better service than in the past when there was only one stop on the Manhattan side. These ferries should be just as enjoyable and faster than the one I used to take from Hoboken to Manhattan in 1947.
A new temporary bridge is currently being built across West Street to make the financial district more accessible and to make the residents of Battery Park City more a part of the city. West Street itself will be opening this coming weekend. Now one can go down West Street for the first time into the tunnel around the horn at the tip of Manhattan or into the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. That will relieve the downtown area of a lot of trucks which have had to come through the narrow streets of downtown to get to the FDR Drive and the East Side.
The resale store Century 21 reopened downtown to great acclaim. Companies are moving back into the office buildings. 3,500 people will move back into the American Express Building in the next several weeks. Merrill Lynch has moved 8,000 people back into their building over the last few weeks.
A lot of money has been dispensed thanks to generous grants from the Federal Government. We've combined forces with the Empire State Development Corporation, of which we are a subsidiary, and the similar agency in the city, the Economic Development Corporation, to dispense $700 million of aid to small businesses, retailers and restaurants downtown. These were businesses whose inventories were destroyed or damaged, who lost all their customers, or who have had to close down. This is money to pay them back for their losses and to provide funds to encourage them to reopen. We are focused on distributing aid and relief to small businesses, while Daniel L. Doctoroff is heading up the group working on direct grants to big businesses.
We've been supplied with $200 million that has gone in benefits to the residents of the area. People who have been willing to sign up for two year or longer leases are entitled to up to $12,000 -- $6,000 a year rental reductions as a result of committing themselves to the area. All of these benefits are bringing retail stores and residents back into the area and seem to be very effective. After the announcement of rental benefits for new residents, a huge upsurge in new leases took place in Battery Park City and elsewhere in the downtown area.
Our Board has decided that before we do anything we needed to listen for a while. For the last two weeks we've been in what I call the "listening mode." In order to listen effectively we established nine different Advisory Boards, each Board representing each of the considerable number of constituencies that we have had. We assign two or three of our Corporation Board members to each of those Advisory Boards to meet with and determine what each of these constituencies are looking for. These advisory boards include everyone from the families of the victims to residents of the area to Wall Street leaders who were principal tenants of the buildings downtown.
The hearing and the listening will go on, but the period for exclusively listening and not taking action is now over. Our Board will be announcing plans as they are completed. The first step in that plan will be a series of guidelines and principles of redeveloping the area to be released sometime in the middle of April. There will be standards for what should be there and what our targets are in this rebuilding process. Subsequent to that, and following in a series of announcements, we will be announcing decisions on specific subjects.
We hope to build a balanced 24-hour, seven-day-a-week community. This does not mean a community of solely big office buildings that empties out at night, but a balanced community that has more residential area. It's a beautiful part of New York City to live in, and I think we've got something that's very attractive and at somewhat lower prices than other locations.
Some of the early things that need to be decided upon depend on underground reconstruction. Many of these are transportation questions. Where will the subway exits come up? When will the PATH terminal be reconstructed and where should it rise up above ground? Should West Street be submerged into an underground tunnel to better connect Battery Park City to Lower Manhattan at the street level? Those are some of the transportation problems and decisions have to be made. This is especially important because construction underground must precede any construction above ground. Rebuilding above ground level will not happen for a few years. All the infrastructure -- including power, telephone and data transmission, subways, PATH and other transportation -- and the foundations for all the new buildings and possible retail malls must be completed before building anything above ground.
The longer term plans of bringing in new routes for commuters from Long Island and upper Manhattan, and extensions of service from Grand Central and Penn Station, all have to be decided on, as does the possibility of a central transportation hub.
We also want cultural and civic activities downtown. What kind of facilities will be provided are all things that will be in our future planning. We are getting on now speedily with those kind of decisions.
Most important of all we want a beautiful memorial, a memorial that will respect the families of the victims and their desire to memorialize their loved ones who have been lost there. We want that memorial to be inspirational, a memorial that will indicate the positive side of what has happened there; the way it's brought America together; the way petty differences have been set aside; the way people are more friendly to each other and cooperating with each other. Some of the spirit of America and the principles we stand for of freedom, democracy and human rights were all represented by what happened on September 11 and its aftermath. All those things should be reflected in the nature of this memorial that will be built.
John Whitehead is the chair of the board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. This essay was adapted from remarks made by Mr. Whitehead at a Crain's Breakfast Forum on March 26th, 2002.