Construction of various projects at the World Trade Center site, including the Freedom Tower and the September 11 Memorial, could be delayed as the Paterson administration reexamines the shifting reality of the site’s construction budgets and timetables that were set by the Pataki administration.
Christopher Ward, the new executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the site’s landlord, is moving forward with an analysis of construction completion dates and other issues. He plans to publicly address the situation as soon as the next few weeks.
As he does so, numerous people involved with redevelopment downtown say delays are widely expected for multiple projects, including the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, the PATH station that features a Santiago Calatrava-designed oculus, and perhaps the Freedom Tower. In the past few years, officials have been working with unrealistic dates, people involved said, as the complexities of the site were never fully understood before the timetables were set.
A government-commissioned assessment found that the interior museum portion of the memorial may not be ready until 2013 or 2014, pushed back from the most recent target of 2011, the people involved with the redevelopment said. The PATH station, once expected to cost $2.2 billion, is the furthest behind schedule and overbudget, with completion not expected until at least 2013, up from 2009. Utilities connecting to all the site are behind schedule, and the Freedom Tower is thought to be closer to the target date of 2012 than any of the other projects, though its completion date may now be at least 2013.
The decision to reevaluate the dates set by the Pataki administration represents a turnaround from the Spitzer administration, which was aware of the site’s challenges but chose generally to publicly keep the target dates as opposed to blaming departed officials for delays and then setting a new schedule.
A former state official said the rationale at the time was that more conservative targets would have had a deterministic effect, resulting in an overall later completion of the whole site. Had the Spitzer administration set new dates, it felt, the contractors would have had no incentive to finish the jobs any earlier than the new targets. But by choosing to keep the less realistic dates, officials hoped to push the contractors to come at least somewhat close to hitting those original marks.
That stance drew internal fire in the Spitzer administration from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, said people familiar with discussions, though the Port Authority maintained the approach.
Now there’s new leadership in Albany and at the Port Authority—Mr. Ward was sworn in as executive director in May—and the unrealistic target dates are drawing nearer with the projects’ completions still far away.
“The Port Authority was asked to take the lead in rebuilding in late 2006, and the site went from a complete stop on construction to a sprint,” said a Port Authority spokesman, Stephen Sigmund. With a new director, “it’s totally appropriate for him to want to—and for the board and our governors to want him to—do a full assessment of the projects to make sure they’re moving forward accountably and with achievable timelines and budgets.”
THE WORLD TRADE CENTER site is one of tremendous complexity, and timetables for the various projects were set at a point when officials had not yet done the requisite work to determine whether the firm dates were actually attainable, said multiple people familiar with the rebuilding effort. The Pataki administration had already pushed date after date—the Freedom Tower and the PATH station were once scheduled to have opened by now—and at the time when the recent completion dates were set, Governor Pataki was pondering a run for president, with the revitalization of Lower Manhattan poised to be a major issue.
As Mr. Pataki was leaving office, the city-/state-controlled Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center brought in a host of outside consultants to make an independent risk assessment that looked at the various projects at the site, considering their target completion dates and potential impediments. The result, a closely held report, painted a picture of an uncoordinated mess at ground zero, with innumerable obstacles to target timelines and budgets, people familiar with the report said. Each of the projects on the site was found to be acting as if it were on a site of its own, with a notable and substantial lack of coordination, a structure that lends itself to setbacks.
The expected delays now come in part as a result of the interconnected nature of construction, as changes or unanticipated actions at one project affect numerous other operations on the Rubik’s Cube-like site.
Four towers over 900 feet tall are being constructed simultaneously over a relatively small footprint with little space for staging; the Port Authority needs to construct a vehicle security center that cannot be built until the former Deutsche Bank tower is demolished; the memorial may have trouble functioning without the completion of an underground parking garage beneath developer Larry Silverstein’s towers; PATH and subway trains must run continuously; the office towers cannot function until common utility infrastructure is built on the site, a program well behind schedule; and the box that holds the No. 1 subway line must be reinforced and supported before any work through much of the site can move forward—a task that was not initially anticipated with the level of complexity required, people familiar with the site said.
In the case of the memorial and the museum, much of the interior work is dependent upon the completion of the adjacent PATH hub, which in turn is undergoing revisions in an attempt to cut costs. The target completion is now set for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, but the LMCCC report from last year found that the interior museum portion is unlikely to be completed before 2013, according to people familiar with the findings.
The biggest delays and overruns at the site are at the PATH hub, a $2.2 billion project that was given a budget and timeline well before anyone grasped its intricacies, officials say. First, the entire temporary PATH station on the eastern edge of the site must be completely removed and excavated down to the bedrock before any work can begin. Then the structure must be built with an intricate network of mechanical and technical infrastructure, parking, retail, a spacious concourse, and a pricey above-ground winged, spiky structure.
Fitting all of that into the $2.2 billion budget is considered a total impossibility; as of April, the Port Authority was set on holding the costs to $2.5 billion, a number that includes a $300 million contingency fund from the Federal Transit Administration, though that position also may change.
As for timel
ines, a December risk assessment from the F.T.A. found that the project has a 50-50 chance of being finished by June 2013.
The Freedom Tower is considered in more stable shape financially than the PATH station, as the bulk of the construction contracts have already been bid upon and awarded. People familiar with the construction said it stands to be at least six months behind schedule, pushing into 2013 at least.
As for the other projects at the site, those involved in the rebuilding generally considered the delivery dates for Mr. Silverstein’s Towers 2, 3 and 4—in 2012—to be relatively realistic; however, they, too, are very dependent on the progress elsewhere. The towers are all to get electricity and other utilities, for instance, from a central infrastructure to be built by the Port Authority.
Mr. Silverstein recently was given an extra four to six months to complete two of the towers, as he is negotiating to potentially bring Merrill Lynch to a redesigned Tower 3.
Then there is the Performing Arts Center, a Frank Gehry-designed building planned to go on the northern edge of the site. The hundreds of millions in necessary funding for the center is virtually nonexistent right now, and construction would have to wait at least four or five years, people familiar with the site say. The state and city are also still considering a proposal to move it above the troubled Fulton Street Transit Center a few blocks to the east.
Two other buildings, Fiterman Hall to the north of the site and the former Deutsche Bank building to the south, still remain damaged and are awaiting deconstruction. The state is working on bringing down the Deutschetower, at 130 Liberty Street, by first decontaminating it, but the demolition of CUNY’s Fiterman Hall is held up as the city and state have a dispute over funding.
“One-thirty liberty has to come down; Fiterman Hall has to come down,” said Elizabeth Berger, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, the major business group in Lower Manhattan. “I can’t believe that we will have the seventh anniversary of 9/11, and they will still be up.”
With regard to construction at the World Trade Center site, Ms. Berger expressed confidence in the effort to set new, realistic dates, as construction is indeed moving forward.
“What’s important are real timetables, real schedules, and meeting them, and action now,” she said. “There is progress, we’re excited about that. It can’t stop; it’s got to keep going.”