City seeks to take over W.T.C. arts

By Josh Rogers

The city is looking to take over the stalled effort to design and build a performance center at the World Trade Center site.

Dep. Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, who oversees Lower Manhattan rebuilding, told Downtown Express that the city is probably the best group to work with famed architect Frank Gehry on the design for the Performing Arts Center near the Freedom Tower, because the group slated to fundraise, own and manage the center, the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, is focusing on raising money for the memorial. Doctoroff said when it comes time to raise funds for the center, it may be better to set up a new fundraising organization rather than have the foundation run both the memorial complex and the cultural building.

“It might be a separate entity to run and manage the performing arts center,” he said in a telephone interview July 26. The arts center is to house the Joyce and Signature Theaters and would have at least one 1,000–seat dance theater and an undetermined number of smaller theaters for Signature.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose district includes the site, said because the city and state have wasted so much time keeping the center on the backburner, it is now better to wait another five months when he expects, and polls suggest, that state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer will become governor. He said it sounded like a last-minute plan to ensure that Spitzer will have less influence on the site.

“Yes the community wanted one,” Silver told Downtown Express of the cultural building. “The community wanted one three years ago. It could have been done three years ago if we weren’t talking about a stadium on the West Side….It’s been so delayed, I’d just as soon wait until Jan. 1 when we have a new governor.”

Doctoroff and Mayor Michael Bloomberg led the effort to build a New York Jets/Olympic stadium on the far West Side until Silver and state Sen. Majority Leader Joe Bruno defeated the project last year.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the agency overseeing the rebuilding, announced Tuesday it would disband in a few months, prompting discussion about the future of the center. The L.M.D.C., which has clashed with the foundation in recent months over the PAC, has allocated most of the $2.78 billion of federal money it was given to help Downtown rebuild. It has set aside $50 million for the arts building and it is unclear where that money will go when the agency closes sometime in the next few months.

L.M.D.C. president Stefan Pryor said Doctoroff’s ideas are the “ideal” way to get the art center built. L.M.D.C. staffers have been consulting with Gehry’s team about designing the PAC’s complex underground area, he said. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, is building a temporary PATH commuter station at the PAC site to replace the current temporary PATH station while construction on the permanent Santiago Calatrava-designed station continues.

The L.M.D.C. warned officials a few months ago that the Port was eyeing a large part of the PAC site for a train station exit because the performance center project was on hold. The memorial foundation has never been enthusiastic about the PAC, failing to even set a date to begin fundraising for it until after all $510 million needed for the memorial and museum was raised.

Madelyn Wils, an L.M.D.C. board of director, said the aboveground performance center would cost around $200 million, of which about $50 million would come from the L.M.D.C. She said the Port Authority should pay for the underground infrastructure costs, which are likely to be expensive.

Culture uses have had a difficult time finding a place at the Trade Center site. Last summer, plans for a cultural center adjacent to the memorial disintegrated when the Drawing Center, a Soho-based museum, pulled out from the development after sustaining weeks of intense criticism from local press and some victims’ family members. Later in the summer, Governor George Pataki banished the International Freedom Center, a museum created explicitly for the cultural center, from the memorial quadrant for similar reasons. The museum building site will now be used for a state-funded, $80 million visitors center for the memorial.

Joe Daniels, the foundation’s acting president, did not sound like he would fight the city or the L.M.D.C. for control of the center. “The building of the Performing Arts Center is a significant piece of the revitalization of Lower Manhattan,” Daniels said a prepared statement to Downtown Express Wednesday. “We are committed to serving the best interests of the project and when the time comes to move forward, we will help make sure the right thing gets done.” 

Tom Healy, president of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, said he was happy to hear the city wanted to separate the cultural center from the memorial, but he thought the fundraising effort needed to begin now.

“You don’t have a memorial running a performing arts center,” said Healy, whose non-profit organization runs art programs Downtown and also supports small arts organizations. He said it is important to set up a fundraising group now and enlist corporate donors to participate in the design process to protect the project when things get rocky.

He said the reason the Drawing Center and Freedom Center were bounced was that there was no private group to rally support when 9/11 family groups objected. “The idea didn’t belong to people,” he said.


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