Lower Manhattan Gets Guidelines, All Around Site

The board of trustees of the Lower Manhattan Development

Corporation gathered in a room overlooking Ground Zero on April 9 and

unanimously adopted a set of loose guidelines for redeveloping the

neighborhood.

As the media struggled to find a story in the event-the

Associated Press ran with an item about a proposed “freedom park”-government

and real-estate sources close to the LMDC said the agency itself was struggling

to make any newsworthy progress. When the period for public comment on the

rebuilding ended March 15, the LMDC was poised to shift from a phase of taking

input to a phase of taking action. Whether because that next phase is destined to

attract some criticism, or because there are still too many players on the

field, the LMDC is still mostly kicking ideas around.

LMDC vice president for planning Alexander Garvin tried to get

things moving after March 15 by issuing a Request for Proposals for an “urban

plan for the World Trade Center site” to a select group of architects-only

to be told by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that he’d

jumped the gun.

The LMDC may have $21 billion in federal money at its disposal,

but the Port Authority remains the owner of the 16-acre site of the former

World Trade Center complex. When several architects received the LMDC’s

Request for Proposals (or “R.F.P.,” in industry shorthand), the implication

was unmistakable: the LMDC assumed it would commission the architects that

would ultimately redevelop the site. When the Port Authority got wind of the

requests, they “went crazy,” in the words of one member of an LMDC

advisory council. “Now they’re making up their own R.F.P.,” the source said of the Port Authority.

Including developer Larry Silverstein, who owns a lease on the

site and has hired architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill to develop plans,

that makes three players, each proposing to decide what gets built.

The LMDC seems to have lost the first round: Its Request for

Proposals was followed, four days later, by another letter saying it was “suspending” the

request and would contact recipients “as soon as possible with further

information.”

The mixed messages were befuddling to some of the people who

received them. “This whole thing kind of speaks to what is the process on this?” said

one architect who got the R.F.P. “Who’s running it, who’s in control and why? …

There’s

no process set up yet.”

The still somewhat undefined balance of power downtown raises

questions about the meaning of the LMDC guidelines adopted on April 9, which

gave little in the way of conclusive ideas, besides amalgamating the immense

store of suggestions from the public on what the site should become. On the

topic of a permanent memorial to the New Yorkers who died on Sept. 11, for

instance, Mr. Garvin told board members that the memorial would “reflect

the free exchange of ideas, goods and services among diverse peoples that the

World Trade Center embodied.” But what about the question of whether or

not to build on the “footprints” of the two towers-two acres of the 16-acre site?

Similarly, discussion of the fate of West Street-the

busy highway that divides Battery Park City from the rest of lower Manhattan-appears

to have advanced little beyond the consensus already reached: that it should be

moved underground. Questions about whether federal money could be used for such

a project, who would have ownership of the land where the highway once stood

and how that land would be taxed, remain unanswered.

And while one item in the guidelines calls for the building of an

“intermodal

transit hub” linking the PATH train, subways and possibly a future

light-rail service in a single terminal, the report offered four different

places for the hub-two on the current World Trade Center site, and two off-site-that

would link up to different subways.

Where the report is specific, it still consists only of a grocery

list of proposals. Under an item titled “Provide for new or expanded cultural and

civic institutions in Lower Manhattan,” Mr. Garvin lists a series of components “under

review”

by the LMDC, including the development of “a new museum dedicated to American

freedom, tolerance and the values that the World Trade Center represented”; a

performing-arts center that would serve as a new home for the City Opera;

assistance for the Guggenheim Museum in building its downtown branch in the

wake of Mr. Bloomberg’s budget cuts to cultural institutions; and aid to currently

existing lower Manhattan museums, from the South Street Seaport Museum to the

Museum of Financial History.

Disputes continue among neighborhood groups as to whether the

downtown Guggenheim should be built, with one resident at a community-board

meeting likening Frank Gehry’s design to a cherry bomb exploding in a

Coke can. And the City Opera is in the middle of its own controversy with

fellow Lincoln Center tenants over the cultural behemoth’s planned renovations

and expansion.

Conspicuously missing is any mention of the Museum of the City of

New York, which was ousted from its putative Tweed Courthouse home by Mr.

Bloomberg and has since received offers for another downtown home. Sabeth Ryan

Albert, a spokeswoman for the embattled museum, expressed surprise at the

omission. “It is clear that the Mayor has suggested that the Museum of the

City of New York have a presence in the cultural center that will eventually be

developed at Ground Zero,” she said.

But this is not the only instance in which Mr. Bloomberg’s

objectives have squared poorly with those of the LMDC. On April 8, the Mayor

joined John Whitehead, chair of the LMDC, and Governor George Pataki to unveil

a new “Family

Center”

where relatives of the Sept. 11 victims could view the work at Ground Zero away

from the throng of tourists and gawkers who visit the site. The event turned

into a three-hour-long pitched battle over the lack of a representative for the

victims’

families on the LMDC’s board of trustees.

Family groups had believed that Mr. Bloomberg would choose one of

his four appointees to the board from this constituency. That wasn’t the

case.

Mr. Bloomberg held firm the next day, announcing at the LMDC

meeting that he was appointing Museum of Folk Art architect Billie Tsien,

Downtown Alliance president Carl Weisbrod, former Related Companies senior vice

president Sally Hernandez-Piñero, and Merrill Lynch chief operating

officer E. Stanley O’Neal to its board-even as the victims’ families continued to

take him to task in the daily newspapers for his intransigence.

“Everyone feels that you have to have families on the board,”

Michael Cartier, co-founder of the victims’ families group Give Your Voice, told the Daily News .

And LMDC board members Deborah Wright and Lew Eisenberg-both

of whom had met with the families on April 8-gave the issue a whitewashing the next

morning, reporting only that the families of victims wanted “a

continuous loop of communication” with the agency, and characterizing the

previous evening’s discussion as “productive.”

Of all the parties involved, Mr. Bloomberg is the least

vulnerable to the wrath of the victims’ families. The LMDC is trying to work

under a microscope, and Governor Pataki is in an increasingly nasty re-election

bid.

Flanked by bereaved family members on the night of April 8, Mr.

Pataki, gazing out over the bustle at Ground Zero from the new family room,

said, “We

will not ever stop bringing whatever comfort we can bring to you.”

As Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Whitehead moved into another conference

room to break the bad news, Mr. Pataki was spirited out a side door down to a

black Chevy Suburban waiting for him on Broadway.

And he was not scheduled to attend the LMDC meeting the next

morning.