There are many things that downtown Manhattan needs in the ongoing aftermath of 9/11. But 11 million square feet of new office space is not one of them. The six proposals submitted for public consumption err by requiring the rebuilding of all the office space lost in the destruction of the World Trade Center. This is a disaster in the making-and indeed, New Yorkers uniformly rejected the designs as atrocious. The priorities for redeveloping the area should be quality of life and transportation. Only by focusing on those two elements will downtown Manhattan be able to stem the loss of banks and law firms, attract new companies and residents, and bring a measure of well-being and optimism to a neighborhood that absorbed the worst terrorist attack in history.
Long before 9/11, companies were moving out of lower Manhattan. As The New York Times recently reported, one out of every five floors of downtown office space is unoccupied. Even offering corporations millions of dollars in tax breaks has not been able to stop the exodus. The answer is not to rebuild acres of office buildings, but to create an alluring, safe residential neighborhood, and to make commuting to the area a breeze for those who live elsewhere. Clean streets, low crime, tastefully designed residential buildings and intelligent use of the marvelous waterfront-these factors will create a New York community that will keep corporations from bolting and entice commercial and residential tenants. Construction of new office space should be limited to perhaps five million square feet. If smart professionals start to move themselves and their families into the area, white-shoe banks and law firms will follow.
Anchoring this effort must be an inspiring memorial park paying tribute to the thousands who lost their lives. The Ground Zero memorial will likely become the city’s foremost tourist attraction, and great attention must be given to its design and accessibility. Another central element must be a heightened emphasis on the arts and culture-new museums, theaters and concert halls will contribute to a true 24/7 community.
The fate of downtown Manhattan is too important to be left to the engineers at the Port Authority, who have no interest in New York City, only in their own revenue stream. The Port Authority and the site’s developer, Larry Silverstein, are deluding themselves if they think they can fill 11 million square feet of new office space with paying tenants.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki should realize that history will hold them accountable for what rises from the ashes of Ground Zero. Just as Rudy Giuliani held the city together in the weeks following 9/11, Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Pataki can win the loyalty of New Yorkers by making sure that downtown Manhattan becomes a prime residential neighborhood, and not just an office park for suburbanites.
Bush’s Bumblers: Pitt and O’Neill
You’d think Harvey Pitt, the embattled chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, would keep a low profile these days. After all, he has become a poster boy for Democrats who’d like nothing more than to link the Bush administration to the nation’s corporate and accounting scandals. Mr. Pitt’s close ties to the nation’s largest accounting firms, and his relentless pursuit of looser regulations, make him an irresistible target.
Instead of choosing discretion, however, Mr. Pitt has gone on to make a fool of himself. He is demanding a pay raise and a promotion to the President’s cabinet. He has proposed that he hold a more senior rank than the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. He could have been a hero had he carried on the fight of his predecessor, Arthur Levitt, who wanted to separate the consulting and auditing activities of the big accounting firms.
Mr. Pitt thinks he should get a 21 percent raise, from $138,200 a year to $166,700, at a time when even some Republicans believe he ought to be standing on one of the nation’s growing unemployment lines. Amazingly, he put forward his proposal without giving his boss a heads-up. The White House quickly dismissed Mr. Pitt’s suggestion, which if nothing else proves that somebody in that establishment understands that Americans are angry at corporate America and its enablers in Washington.
Mr. Pitt is not the only member of the Bush team who seems intent on making the annual summer silly season even sillier. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has been traveling abroad, even as skittish investors have been heading for the nearest exit. Mr. O’Neill, who said he had no choice but to travel to Central Asia because he had vital issues of national security to discuss with foreign officials, is clearly a lightweight in a heavyweight’s job. He’s certainly no Bob Rubin. While it’s true that some branches of the Treasury Department (the Customs Service and the Secret Service) have a role to play in defending our borders, Mr. O’Neill’s main task is to help oversee the nation’s economy. And while he was away, markets plunged and the nation’s economy drifted toward a double-dip recession.
The actions of Mr. O’Neill and Mr. Pitt do not inspire confidence. The President should consider whether he’d be better off with a new team of economic advisers. It would be hard to find worse.
Golisano’s Ego Trip
Tom Golisano says he has $70 million he wants to spend improving life for the state of New York. Unfortunately, he doesn’t want to give that money to a worthy organization which, say, helps the homeless or tutors disadvantaged kids. No, Mr. Golisano is spending those millions where they won’t do a drop of good: Yes, he’s running for Governor-again-and blowing tens of millions of dollars in the process, investing in a narcissistic ego trip to nowhere.
In case you weren’t paying attention in 1994 and 1998, Mr. Golisano is a billionaire who founded a payroll company in Rochester and started the Independence Party so he could run for Governor. He never won more than 8 percent of the vote on his previous two ego trips, and this time around he can’t even be sure of winning his own party’s primary. But that hasn’t stopped this political genius from buying millions of dollars of TV ads in a vain attempt to make himself a household name. He has yet to offer any compelling rationale for why voters should take a look at him -unlike Michael Bloomberg, whose millions were backed up with a discernible political philosophy. Mr. Golisano seems to believe that wanting to be Governor is enough reason to be handed the position.
New Yorkers realize, of course, that he is a clown. If Mr. Golisano wanted to replace their scorn with respect, he could take his money and put it to some use beyond getting his mug into every living room between Buffalo and Battery Park.