Mayor Proposes Huts on Stilts Over East River

The Bloomberg administration is working on an ambitious plan to develop thousands of residential units on a platform over the East River, below the Brooklyn Bridge, as part of an overall plan to redevelop lower Manhattan. The administration is working out the final kinks and is scheduled to release the plan to the public on Dec. 6.

Armed with the first official plan for lower Manhattan since six poorly received design proposals for Ground Zero were unveiled over the summer, the city is ratcheting up its role in the rebuilding process, which previously was Albany’s terrain. In fact, a senior state official, as well as sources at the state-run agency Empire State Development, said they hadn’t been consulted on the city’s plans-even though the proposal is likely to involve significant redevelopment of state properties in lower Manhattan.

The state is not currently working on its own plan for lower Manhattan, but the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, a city-state agency that has been heavily influenced by the Pataki administration, has hired seven teams of architects to deliver their own plans, which they plan to make public on Dec. 16. Those visions promise to be eye-catching, but they’re unlikely to show how they’ll be financed, and they probably won’t include specific transportation proposals. Those flaws, say local civic leaders, make the city’s plan more attractive.

“Personally, I think [the city plan] is significantly more important than seven more architectural plans for the site,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the New York City Partnership, an advocacy group for New York businesses that has been consulting with the city on lower Manhattan redevelopment and serves in an advisory role for the LMDC. “The architectural plans are not meaningful outside of questions of who’s going to pay for them. And we really need to agree upon what kind of investments we’re going to make.”

Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, the city’s economic-development czar, wouldn’t comment on any element of the plan in advance of its release.

The plan’s East River waterfront component, sources said, takes off from an overall plan for the redevelopment of the area conducted by the Alliance for Downtown New York and the local community board.

That part of the plan calls for depressing part of the elevated F.D.R. Drive south of the Brooklyn Bridge to ground level and developing a smaller highway, more like West Street on the other side of the island. This would allow pedestrians unimpeded access to waterfront attractions along the water from the South Street Seaport to the Battery Maritime Building, already under redevelopment by the city’s Economic Development Corporation. The plan envisions a sliver of public use directly on the water, not unlike the Hudson River Park to the west. But the plan takes off from there with its ambitious proposal to build over the East River-a project reminiscent of Waterside Plaza, the building complex below 30th Street built on piles driven into the riverbed easy of the F.D.R. in 1973 to widespread acclaim. (Since then, much has been learned about the downside of such projects: witness the $25 million repair bill that socked the towers’ developer in 1995.)

It’s also unclear how feasible the changes to the F.D.R. Drive would be, or whether such a move has support from the state Department of Transportation, which operates the highway.

The LMDC has called for increased housing in lower Manhattan and has asked its seven teams to identify parcels for residential development, but has restricted its designers to an area south and west of Ground Zero.

The plan also emphasizes the importance of creating direct access to the city airports in Queens from lower Manhattan. The idea has champions among downtown landlords and groups like the New York City Partnership, but has drawn criticism in other quarters.

For instance, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has publicly supported a plan championed by John Zuccotti, co-chairman of Brookfield Properties, which owns parts of the World Financial Center and 1 Liberty Plaza, flanking Ground Zero. The plan, which The Observer first described in July, would create a super-shuttle from a new transit hub at or near Ground Zero that would divert subways to currently existing tunnels under the East River and connecting with AirTrain and the Long Island Rail Road at the Jamaica terminal. While the M.T.A. has publicly supported the plan (with a mild admonition that funding would have to be secured in competition with any number of other projects), privately a battle has been going on between M.T.A. analysts and analysts at Cooper, Robertson & Partners, retained by Brookfield, over how useful the proposal would be, how many commuters it would actually attract, and how significant the service disruptions would be.

It’s not clear how popular the plan is with New Yorkers: The project has been portrayed in the press as a sop to suburban commuters that cuts existing services for Brooklynites. The Civic Alliance to Rebuild Downtown New York, an agency formed by the Regional Plan Association, has further argued that the plan doesn’t significantly improve commuting times to lower Manhattan for Long Island residents, cutting their trip by as little as a few minutes.

Mr. Doctoroff, however, has voiced support for the plan, and many who are watching the situation expect Mr. Zucotti’s plan to gain a significant boost when the city makes its own conclusions public on Dec. 6.

When the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation was formed late last year, it was designed as a city-state agency with appointments to its board coming from then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Governor George Pataki and, later on, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. As the presumed receptacle for some $21 billion in promised federal funds, it would seem the natural vehicle for conducting negotiations between the city and state for the redevelopment of lower Manhattan. But as the process has dragged on, the LMDC’s role has become less clear.

With the city devising its own plan for lower Manhattan, releasing it in advance of the LMDC’s plans without consulting state agencies and officials, it’s easy to conclude that the LMDC is no longer-if it ever was-an effective liaison between City Hall and the statehouse. “The Mayor has half the appointees on the LMDC; he should be able to have half the voice in what goes on there by now …. We’re now down the road more than a year, we’ve had many plans submitted and rejected-and now we find out … the Mayor is still talking about releasing his own plan,” said State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “I’m disappointed. Instead of plans and plans and more plans, it’s time to move forward.”

But insiders say the apparent lack of coordination may be more a matter of continuing tension between Charles Gargano, who serves as the chairman of Empire State Development, and Mr. Doctoroff, who operates more independently of Albany’s watchful eye than many of his predecessors.

“Doctoroff is notorious for that: He does his own thing, and no one knows about it,” one state official told The Observer. “It’s not productive.”

“[The State Assembly] had several hearings in order to get all kinds of input,” Mr. Silver complained, “and the Mayor said he’d rather not testify until he released his plan. So that’s where we were.”

Ruffled Feathers

This isn’t the first time Mr. Doctoroff’s ambitions have run afoul of Albany’s power brokers. As the head of NYC2012, the private company leading the city’s bid to host the Olympics in 2012, Mr. Doctoroff was free to develop plans that made liberal use of city and state properties and resources for development. Proposals in the Olympics bid included the redevelopment of the West Side rail yards south of the Javits Center along the Hudson River, to create a new Olympic stadium that could later be used by the Jets football team; an expanded Javits Center; and the extension of the No. 7 subway line west and south from its current terminus at Times Square.

But since Mr. Doctoroff became deputy mayor for economic development under Mr. Bloomberg, many of those proposals have made their way wholesale into city projects-without, Albany insiders say, state officials playing a significant role. For instance, one top official said Albany was never consulted about the plan to redevelop the far West Side that the city’s Economic Development Corporation has submitted, even though it calls for extensive redevelopment of state properties like the Javits Center and serious financial commitments from agencies like the M.T.A. (which is dominated by Albany).

More recently, leaks to the press about a Doctoroff proposal to remove the Port Authority from its ownership of the World Trade Center site, leaving it more flexible to respond to the city’s ideas for how to redevelop the site, ignited another flare-up. The plan was to resolve the city’s ongoing negotiations with the Port Authority over the lease of the land beneath La Guardia and Kennedy airports by deeding the land to the bistate agency, in return for its handing the World Trade Center site over to the city.

State officials insisted they had heard nothing about it before the news appeared in a Saturday edition of the New York Post, and nerves are still raw about the sucker punch thus dealt to Mr. Gargano: Such a deal would effectively cut the state-which had largely coordinated the effort to secure federal funding-out of the redevelopment process on the site. Messrs. Doctoroff and Gargano both denied there was a feud, although the Post reported later that Mr. Doctoroff had planned a meeting with Mr. Gargano to smooth things over.

Many elements of the city’s downtown plan do not require approval or assistance from the state. For instance, the East River waterfront part of the plan is said to be centered around the redevelopment of the Battery Maritime ferry terminal, currently under redevelopment through the city’s economic-development agency. No winning bidder has been announced there yet, although over a year has passed since the original request for proposals was issued, which has led to speculation that the East Side residential development is part of a waterfront development plan that would complement the massive upgrade in city ferry services contemplated in the city’s 2012 Olympics bid.

That would seem to bear the mark of Dan Doctoroff.