Pataki Grabs Center Stage As Zero Nero

Governor George Pataki wants you to know that he, not Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is in charge at Ground Zero.

City Hall was blindsided recently with the revelation that Mr. Pataki is preparing an exhaustive presentation on the redevelopment of Ground Zero-even as the Bloomberg administration worked behind the scenes and in public to secure a more powerful position in the redevelopment process.

Details about the presentation, which will be made at a meeting of the Association for a Better New York on April 24, were leaked to The New York Times and reported in an April 22 article. The presentation is expected to establish a timetable for key elements of the redevelopment process, including the restoration of the skyline of lower Manhattan, the development of a massive transit hub and the completion of a memorial-all before Mr. Pataki’s third (and presumably last) term ends in December 2006.

The move represents a shift for the Pataki administration. The Governor and his allies had been content to remain behind the scenes at Ground Zero, especially when the rebuilding process was faltering in the late months of the Governor’s re-election campaign last year. Mr. Pataki allowed the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, a city-state agency, to take the lumps from the press and public-first on the pace of the redevelopment process, and later on a series of uninspired (and ultimately rejected) designs for the site that were released in July 2002.

According to rebuilding officials, Mr. Pataki will present a plan to complete the construction of Daniel Libes-kind’s 1,776-foot spire at the northwest corner of the site before he leaves office in 2006. The Governor’s plan seeks to barrel over a series of roadblocks, including a dispute over insurance proceeds from the destruction of the Twin Towers; the ravaged commercial real-estate market in lower Manhattan; and public questions about the advisability of building the world’s tallest tower on a site that terrorists targeted as a symbol of American economic might.

Meanwhile, the Bloomberg administration is struggling to assert its influence at the site by continuing to negotiate a land-swap deal with the Port Authority that would put the city in control of the rebuilding effort. In addition, City Hall has been touting redevelopment efforts that are less under the state’s control, such as the establishment of a residential neighborhood on the waterfront below the Brooklyn Bridge, and the establishment of a cultural infrastructure in lower Manhattan that would improve tourism by better linking the area’s many disjointed points of interest.

The Pataki initiative comes in the wake of warnings by the business community that lower Manhattan will see a continued drain in corporate investment if some short-term fixes aren’t soon in place.

“The short-term issues basically have to do with traffic patterns and accessibility downtown, and making sure that construction and security measures don’t so tie up the streets and the pedestrian walkways that it makes it difficult to conduct business,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New YorkCity, which drafted a memo to city and state officials outlining the complaints. “This has been a problem. It’s been identified lately as an increasing frustration for downtown businesses, and it appears that both the Governor and the Mayor are taking it seriously.”

Site Control

Recent weeks have seemed like an apotheosis of sorts in the struggle between the city and the state over control of lower Manhattan, with Mr. Pataki’s presentation the coup de grâce . City officials said that by April 18, the Mayor had discussed the presentation with Mr. Pataki, and as of April 22, there were plans for further discussion between the Mayor and the Governor before the speech was to be delivered.

But the fact remains that the issues Mr. Pataki planned to address in his presentation were sorted out before the Bloomberg administration had any knowledge of his plans.

Moreover, the recent resignation of LMDC vice president of planning Alexander Garvin, a close associate of Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, has been interpreted as a weakening of the city’s influence over planning at Ground Zero.

LMDC sources cited personality clashes between Mr. Garvin and the rest of the rebuilding agency as the major reason for his resignation. Particular emphasis was laid on a New Yorker article in January by Paul Goldberger that seemed to give Mr. Garvin, and not the Pataki administration, credit for key elements of the redevelopment process.

Others said it was Mr. Garvin’s connection to the city that made his position untenable.

“He was a dysfunctional part of the process,” one source said. “He was reporting almost directly to Doctoroff.”

Mr. Doctoroff, who hired Mr. Garvin as the architect of his 2012 Olympics plan for New York City, brushed off suggestions that the city’s influence in the LMDC was imperiled by Mr. Garvin’s exit, and pointed out that Andrew Winters, his likely successor, had also worked under Mr. Garvin on the 2012 plan.

“Alex just brings a breadth of experience and creativity that very few people anywhere have, so I think it’s a loss,” Mr. Doctoroff said. “But in terms of the city’s input, I have an extraordinary relationship with Andrew. So I wouldn’t overinterpret that.”

The city has also suffered a blow with the appointment of Kevin Rampe, a former Pataki aide, to the position of interim president of the LMDC. Talk of the imminent restructuring of the organization, with city-approved candidates taking key roles in the leadership of the agency, seemed to falter when the Governor again named one of his own to head the organization.

With Mr. Pataki’s coming bells-and-whistles presentation, he will also be able to advance significantly-and, potentially, take credit for-many of the elements of Mr. Bloomberg’s own proposal for lower Manhattan.

Mr. Pataki is expected, for instance, to announce a significant financial commitment for studying the prospect of a direct rail link from the Long Island Railroad and the city’s two airports to the transit hub at Ground Zero-a plan that met serious opposition through most of last year from Mr. Pataki’s own Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but which the Mayor promoted in his Dec. 12, 2002, presentation to the same civic group that Mr. Pataki is scheduled to address on April 24.

According to rebuilding officials, the rail link is now at the top of the transportation agenda. It remains to be seen whether the link will take the form of a plan by Brookfield Properties to use existing rail tunnels beneath the East River for a super-shuttle to lower Manhattan from the airports. An alternative plan calls for construction of a new tunnel for the service. Funding from the LMDC will go toward making that determination, with a definite deadline for the completion of a study and for the procurement of funds to build the link.

In that instance as in others, Mr. Pataki will appear to be offering New Yorkers the most concrete and specific plans for rebuilding Ground Zero and lower Manhattan to date-something the LMDC, the Port Authority and City Hall have not been able to do.

Governor’s Architect

At the Governor’s right hand is a relative newcomer in the rebuilding effort, Studio Daniel Libeskind. The firm began its work amid announcements from the Port Authority that its own planner and transit consultant, Stanton Eckstut, was being let go. The recent news of the resignation of the LMDC’s chief planner only underscores the point: Mr. Libeskind is now, in essence, the chief planner and architect for the new World Trade Center.

According to sources close to the situation, Mr. Libeskind is also taking a profoundly expanded role in the redevelopment process.

“There has been skepticism over the last several months about the role Daniel would play at Ground Zero,” said LMDC spokesman Matthew Higgins. “And we’ve gone a long way to assure people that he will be intimately involved in all elements of the redevelopment process at the site.”

Mr. Libeskind was loath to attribute his importance in the redevelopment process to any personal favor with the Governor, insisting that the city, the Port Authority and the LMDC were all his clients.

“A consensus will have to be reached,” he said by phone from Toronto, where he sometimes teaches. “But things are getting clearer, and I think it’s true: It’s very different now than it was three months ago or two months ago, because people are focusing on setting up a timeline for getting things done.”

Mr. Pataki personally supported his plan for Ground Zero, and even used his power as Governor to override the nomination of Mr. Libeskind’s competitor, the THINK team headed by New York architect Rafael Viñoly, by the LMDC committee responsible for choosing the winner of the design competition.

In the final hours of the competition, Mr. Pataki was said to have reacted to the THINK plan with a “death chill.”

When the Libeskind plan was selected, it was unclear what the spoils would be for the winner of the design competition. At various points during the competition, rebuilding officials said that the plans were only guidelines or possibilities for future development. The ambivalence about how to make use of the plans submitted in the competition was strong enough that the LMDC required the competitors to relinquish any rights to their designs once they were submitted-suggesting that even the determination of a single design wouldn’t guarantee a place in the rebuilding effort for the designer.

Once his team was selected, however, Mr. Libeskind-whose avant-garde designs for the site were met with skeptical smirks from those who doubted the real-estate community would support his angled, cut-up vision-began to develop a close relationship with the Governor.

Mr. Pataki is as known for his tendency to delegate massive responsibilities to trusted deputies as he is for taking a sometimes quirky personal interest in individual elements of their efforts.

Over a series of private dinners and meetings since Mr. Libeskind’s design was selected, the architect has met personally and privately with the Governor to discuss his ideas about the site, rebuilding officials said. And in a bid to ensure that the lower Manhattan skyline is restored to its former glory before he leaves office, Mr. Pataki is expected to announce a timetable for the building of Mr. Libeskind’s tower that would provide for its completion in the next three to four years.

This likely means that spadework would begin much sooner than anticipated, especially in light of the fact that Larry Silverstein, the leaseholder on the commercial portion of the destroyed Twin Towers, is still fighting his insurers to get the highest possible payout-money that he has argued is the only private source of rebuilding funds.

Some $1 billion in insurance proceeds have already been secured, which could-after negotiations with Mr. Silverstein’s lenders-be used to fund a part of the construction of Mr. Libeskind’s tower, a city official said.

But rebuilding authorities said the more likely scenario would be the Port Authority floating a bond to finance construction of the tower even before a settlement was secured, and recouping its money from the insurance proceeds and the leasing of the tower later on.

Conventional Wisdom

Such aggressive measures essentially scrap the conventional wisdom of development at Ground Zero: that until it’s clear who will control the lease on the new building, who will inhabit it and who will pay for its development, nothing can be built at the site. Mr. Pataki’s plan is a sort of building by gubernatorial fiat-and Mr. Libes-kind’s spire will be the result.

Mr. Libeskind has also persuaded the Port Authority and the LMDC that he has (or can marshal) the resources to build the massive Ground Zero gateway to the planned downtown transit hub; to determine the placement and design of the retail concourses above and below ground on the site; to orchestrate the building of the “interpretive museum” on the site that serves as a firewall between the site’s memorial uses and its commercial and retail elements; and to plan the public spaces included in his design. Mr. Pataki is expected to announce that many of those elements will be completed by the end of 2006.

Mr. Libeskind’s contract with the Port Authority to build the transit hub are in the final negotiation stages, an agency spokesperson said. According to one source, the Port Authority was impressed with Mr. Libeskind’s design because it works regardless of how city, state and federal authorities handle West Street, the bustling highway that previously cut off Battery Park City from the rest of lower Manhattan. Whether the highway might be sunk to create a level field to connect the new World Trade Center to Battery Park City, or whether pedestrian crossings would be improved with a large deck built over the highway, remains a political hot potato with local residents and planners. Because the World Financial Center is meant to connect to the massive retail concourse stretching east to the Ground Zero transit hub, and further to the newly developed Fulton Street subway station currently under examination by the M.T.A., how West Street is handled effects the development of the transit and retail infrastructure at Ground Zero. What’s more, Mr. Libeskind’s planned transit hub is capable of supporting a link to the direct airport-access plan under consideration by state officials.

As for the Museum of Freedom proposed by Mr. Libeskind-a building shaped like a bird fanning its wings over the sunken memorial in the southwest quadrant of the site, in effect shielding it from the commercial, retail and street-level uses above-American Express has already stepped forward as a potential funder for the building. According to rebuilding officials, the LMDC was swamped with cultural institutions eager to relocate to Ground Zero shortly after the terrorist attack, but the issue was put on the back burner. Now the agency is aggressively pursuing such institutions as the New-York Historical Society and the Museum of the City of New York to determine who could best administer an “interpretive museum” on the order of the one presented by Mr. Libeskind in his plan.

Meanwhile, the architect and his wife and business partner, Nina, continue to live out of suitcases at the Four Seasons hotel in midtown, though they are close to a deal on an office space flanking Ground Zero that their firm would occupy as soon as May 1. Mr. Libeskind’s search for an apartment in Tribeca or the financial district continues, he said.

“We are very exhilarated,” said Mr. Libeskind of his company, “and we are working very, very hard.”