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
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
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? …
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
Follow Tom McGeveran via RSS.