Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was a disaster of catastrophic proportions.

Although we cannot know at this time the true extent of the economic damage caused by the attack, preliminary estimates of $40 to $60 billion have been made, and they may well prove to be low.

The City provides employment for about 3.8 million people and is home to two of America's top three office districts. Wall Street is the hometown industry of lower Manhattan; the twin towers of the World Trade Center had been its crown jewels. Tuesday, September11th changed that.

Thirty-two brokerage firms had offices there. So, too, did major international banks. Thousands of productive people are gone. The loss of these lives will mark family, friends, co-workers, and indeed, all New Yorkers forever. The sudden loss of their talent, energy, productivity, and earnings has already affected our colleagues and businesses. The loss of entire fire engine, ladder and rescue teams and scores of police and emergency workers have left us all stricken.

The economy, too, has taken a shock. The initial impact destroyed 15 million square feet of office space; with the collateral damage, the lost commercial space will be closer to 25-30 million square feet. It also destroyed two of the three electrical substations and substantial telecommunications switching equipment supplying downtown. The insurance costs of this disaster will be borne by firms headquartered a long way from Manhattan, including Munich Re, Swiss Re and Lloyds. Cleaning this up is estimated to cost about $1 billion.

In the immediate aftermath, some businesses are shuttered and thousands of jobs have been lost. How long this shock lasts and the ultimate costs on the strength of our private economy and our public revenues cannot be known now. Now, the question of confidence hangs over us. Will consumers keep spending and keep the economy out of recession? Will businesses return to lower Manhattan? Will visitors come?

Restoring the nation's confidence is being urgently addressed by all levels of government. Indeed, how well the City's economy will perform will depend on international, national, and industry-specific developments, of course. But it will also depend on the City's leadership. A Mayor must engender confidence that lower Manhattan will be rebuilt quickly, and that all steps will be taken to preserve the business and talent that existed in New York City on September 11.

The task before us is enormous, and attempting to put forth a detailed plan about exactly how we will rebuild New York at this time is both presumptuous and naˆñve because it fails to recognize that the government's initial role in this process is to provide a platform for experts to identify and resolve the many and varied issues presented by this challenge and because it assumes that a candidate for Mayor can, and should, resolve all those issues.

What a candidate for Mayor can do is articulate a vision, and present the framework and process by which we identify and resolve the issues needed to be resolved to attain our goals. That is what is done here.

Shortly after Election Day in November, I will convene a blue ribbon panel to devise the framework to address the recovery, rebuilding and economic implications of the disaster and guide the rebuilding process. I will propose creating a public benefit corporation, The New York Rebuilds Corporation, with extraordinary powers to deal with this unprecedented crisis. The New York Rebuilds Corporation will be a one-stop shopping source with significant financial resources, condemnation authority, and the power to resolve all land use issues and issue all necessary permits so construction can be commenced as soon as possible.

Our goal is to ensure that New York City retains the business and talent that flourished here on the morning of September 11. To do so, we will begin construction of lost office space immediately, and complete construction and rehabilitation of at least ten million square feet of office space within two years. The office space will include both back office space, which will be used in that function indefinitely, and prime office space, some of which will be converted to back office space as new prime space is built at the World Trade Center area. We must also address longer term objectives involving aspects of the City, including its transportation system, the need to decentralize office space, infrastructure, telecommunications, energy, and safety and security concerns.

Long Term Goals

From this tragedy, we have the opportunity to fundamentally shape the future of New York City. We must address key issues.

Transportation. A portion of the proceeds available from the state and federal government should be used to improve our mass transportation system, as well as our systems for transporting goods. Given the strains the attack put on the entire region that are being shouldered primarily by New York City, the time is appropriate to pursue regional payments, such as re-instituting the commuter tax and dedicating its revenue to the transportation needs of commuters in the City. Security concerns must cause us to rethink how trucking is conducted in New York City. To reduce the need for thousands of truck trips a day into and out of the City, we must rely on rail freight more as a way to transport goods. Therefore, designing, funding, and building a rail freight tunnel should be given a high priority. This was, after all, the founding mission of the Port Authority when it was created in 1921. Other large projects deserve our renewed attention and vigor, like the Second Avenue subway, east side access for LIRR trains, and extending the #7 subway line to the west side. Innovative suggestions like extending Metro-North trains south of Grand Central Terminal to downtown, and extending the LIRR line from Flatbush under the East River should be seriously evaluated. Policies should be implemented that will further facilitate the movement of buses in Manhattan. Reducing private car traffic in Manhattan has many positive aspects, from enviro! nmental to urban planning, in addition to security. Making permanent the recent ban on single occupant passenger cars from much of Manhattan should be considered. We should also return to the City's roots as a city on a harbor with extensive ferry service.

Decentralization. While lower Manhattan must be rebuilt to have a critical mass of finance and related industries, this is an opportunity to pursue much needed development opportunities in the City outside lower Manhattan, including the other four boroughs. Therefore, incentives in the form of direct subsidies or tax abatements should be put in place to build in areas outside lower Manhattan, including the boroughs outside Manhattan. The first priority should be to identify already existing buildings that simply need to be rehabilitated and modernized to provide prime office space almost immediately. The recent re-zoning of Long Island City provides an excellent opportunity to develop and decentralize. Downtown Brookly! n, the Hub in the Bronx, and Stapleton in Staten Island are other candidates. The "Commercial Development Strategy for New York City" developed by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer's Group of 35 provides one important development strategy to follow. This time also offers us a renewed opportunity to consider developing Governor's Island in a way that is environmentally sound.

Safety and Security. The panel will address safety and security needs of the City in light of the President's declared War on Terrorism. The panel will advise on the nature and location of command and control center(s) in the event of a disaster, natural or manmade. It will consider ways to increase everybody's personal sense of security without curtailing civil liberties. It will recommend ways to improve coordination among local, state, and federal authorities. It will advise on how the NYPD and FDNY can best contribute to the safety and security of the City given the new realities of the world. It will assess potential targets ! of terrorist attacks, our water system for example, and recommend how they can be strengthened, defended, and repaired in the event of a successful attack. It will evaluate the public health system's readiness to deal with the variety of issues that may be presented to it.

Telecommunications. The panel will assess our telecommunications infrastructure and advise how it can be defended, whether it needs to be further decentralized, and whether and how redundancies can be built into it so that an attack at one point will not disable vast swaths of the system.

Energy. Power plants must also be decentralized, in part to defend them from attack. However, we must find a way to decentralize our sources of power generation and transmission lines so that they will not eviscerate or place undue burdens on particular neighborhoods.

Planning Framework

a. A blue ribbon panel, chaired by the Mayor-elect, will convene shortly after Election Day to devise a blueprint for the real estate revitalization and economic recovery of New York City.

b. The panel will be comprised of leaders in the real estate, insurance, finance, and construction industries, as well as labor leaders. It will include representatives from all affected governmental units, including the City, state, and federal governments, and the Port Authority and MTA. It will also include leaders of the businesses that were housed in the World Trade Center, as well as institutional leaders in lower Manhattan (e.g. Downtown Alliance, the New York Federal Reserve, NYSE, NASDAQ, COMEX, etc.). We would expect that private industry would be prepared to make both immediate and generational commitments to New York City during th! is process.

c. The panel's mission is to report on what will be required to rebuild and revitalize the City by February 1, 2002.

d. The Panel will consider organize into task forces to assess and resolve all issues arising from the terrorist attack and the War on Terrorism, including:

  1. Identifying businesses and industries in need of assistance, and the best means to provide that assistance as quickly as possible.
  2. Assessing the economic impact, both direct and indirect, of the attack.
  3. Assess safety and security issues.
  4. The Panel will assess the City's use of its own office space and determine whether any of it can be leased to the private sector.
  5. Build prime and back office space immediately.
  6. Assess infrastructure needs, including transportation, telecommunications, and energy.
  7. Sources and uses of funding.
  8. What the public sector can do to speed the process, and whether there are existing agencies that can be used, whether their powers need to be augmented by legislation, or whether regulations need to be modified to expedite the reconstruction, or whether new governmental entities need to be created with sufficient powers to accomplish the task at hand.
  9. Whether building code, land use, permitting or environmental laws and regulations need amending.

Rebuilding Effort

The New York Rebuilds Corporation. The NYRC will plan, guide and be responsible for issuing all necessary permits for construction and resolving all zoning and other land use issues. It will be empowered to shorten the time for environmental review. It will have broad powers of condemnation and financing.

Short Term Goals

i. Construct or rehabilitate 10 million square feet of office space within two years.

ii. Provide "one stop shopping" to obtain financing, permitting, and all other needs to develop office space outside lower Manhattan.

iii. Assist the Port Authority and long-term lessee in rebuilding WTC site so that const ruction is completed within 4 years.

iv. Assess and address the collateral damage caused by the terrorist attack (e.g. Tourism, airport related industries, theater, restaurants, cultural institutions, etc.) and devise means to address the impact on affected businesses and industries.

Financing. While the total dollar amount of the damage remains unknown, what needs to be done is not. We need to (1) repair the direct damage from the attack, (2) construct millions of square feet of office space almost immediately, and (3) remodel the City to be configured for the 21st Century. New York City, even with the help of New York State, cannot do this alone. Because we suffered the first casualties in the War against America, America will help us. The federal government has agreed to pay the costs of clearing the World Trade Center site. We will also ask that it work with the Port Authority and provide substan! tial assistance to construct the rail freight tunnel. The commuter tax should be dedicated to funding the Second Avenue subway and decentralizing and improving the mass transportation system. The City and State will shoulder principal responsibility, in conjunction with the private sector, for funding costs to build the office space that is needed immediately. The Port Authority will bear primary responsibility for rebuilding its property at the World Trade Center.

Site Recovery Commission The parties involved will be those currently involved at the site: police, fire, construction and engineering trades, the Port Authority, and the MTA. Its mission is to remove debris, stabilize the site, and prepare for construction. It will also shore up infrastructure in the area. Work to be completed within one year.

The Memorial. We will build an appropriate memorial. Its ultimate design and scope should be the product of a civic discussion involving all interested parties, including survivors, victims' families and employers, residents, and the entire City. A competition should be established for the most appropriate design and location of the memorial.

I have shown this agenda for rebuilding New York City to some leaders in the usiness community, and their response has been very positive. Our goal is to restore confidence in New York City as a global marketplace and the world's destination.

Clearly, we have a monumental task on our hands. Until now, no Mayor has ever confronted a disaster of this size. And it will require us to rethink the financing of some of our investment priorities - the most obvious example being the re-working of our housing production plan, which in part relied upon funds from the sale of the World Trade Center.

But while our city is faced with the new, urgent priority of rebuilding our city, anyone who says that this would be their only priority fails to understand the full dimensions of the job.

While it's critical to rebuild our financial center, it's equally critical to rebuild our schools. While it's essential to house the businesses and residents displaced by the events of the past few weeks, it's equally important to house the working families of New York struggling to find an adequate and affordable place to live. While it is vital that we protect ourselves against the threats of terrorism, it's equally vital that we protect our children from the everyday threats on the streets of our city with more after-school programs. The towers of the World Trade Center have crumbled, but our commitments have not, and these will all be priorities for me as Mayor.

Working together - business and labor, civic leaders and academics, and representatives from the federal, state, and city governments - we WILL rebuild New York City - and build a brighter future for working families in every borough.