End of 130 Liberty brings fate of L.M.D.C. to fore

BY Aline Reynolds

Some Downtown community members believe it is now time for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to think about closing up shop.

The L.M.D.C. should come up with a sunset plan immediately, according to L.M.D.C. Board Member and Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin and other Downtown community activists, since it is nearing completion of its mission. Menin said that, once 130 Liberty, the former Deutsche Bank building, comes down, the agency’s priority should be to release the $200 million in cultural and community enhancement funds.

Catherine McVay Hughes, chair of C.B.1’s World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee, also contended the L.M.D.C. should set a target date for sunsetting.

“Their work is done,” she said. “It’s time for them to allocate the money. The longer they take doing this, the longer they take perpetuating themselves.”

Now that demolition of the 130 Liberty tower is nearly complete, Menin, Hughes and others are stressing the need for the agency’s immediate preparation to sunset.

“You can’t just sunset in a couple of weeks or months,” Menin said. “There has to be a coherent plan, and any existing work that needs to be done needs to be finalized.”

Failing to plan, she said, would be “absolute failure.”

Menin reluctantly voted in favor of extending the L.M.D.C.’s operation budget last April. “I said, ‘I’m voting to approve the budget this time only.’”

She said she has “major concerns” about approving yet another extension of the agency at the forthcoming budget meeting this spring.

In a testimony issued last October at a city council hearing on the matter, Menin called for a sunset provision for the L.M.D.C. that would entail cuts to its staff and programs.

Andrew Brent, a spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg, reiterated the mayor’s stance that the L.M.D.C. is ready to shut down.

“Our position hasn’t changed,” he said. “The L.M.D.C. is ready to be dissolved.”

The L.M.D.C. declined to comment on the matter, but the agency’s chairman, Avi Schick, suggested at the January 26 Board meeting that there is still much work to be done.

“There are cultural needs, there are economic development needs – a wide variety of needs that we want to get to,” he said. “We intend to pursue them vigorously.”

Hughes indicated that she is equally frustrated by the L.M.D.C.’s failure to act timely on the allocation of this sum as she is about the delays in demolishing the 130 Liberty building.

“There have been a few hearings, [and] months have gone by – where’s the progress?” said Hughes. “As we approach the ten-year anniversary, it only makes sense in a time of limited finance that they finally complete their job they were missioned with.”

But the L.M.D.C. doesn’t have to continue to exist in order to distribute the remaining funds. The Economic (not Environmental) Development Corporation, or another city agency, could take charge of the grant money once the applicants are chosen, so long as legal and compliance requirements were met.

David Emil, former president of the L.M.D.C., acknowledged to Downtown Express in December that the agency’s staff and planning facilities “could all go away.”

Emil is now serving on a volunteer basis until the building is turned over to the Port Authority. The agency wouldn’t comment on whether or not it planned on hiring a new person to fill his shoes.

Menin and others believe that replacing Emil is not necessary. “I do not think adding more staff at this time makes sense,” she said, “as L.M.D.C. should be focusing on winding up and allocating the remaining money.”

The L.M.D.C. agreed in 2003 to swap land at 130 and 140 Liberty Streets for the approximately eight acres of land that will make up the future site of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

The Port Authority plans to hand over the site to the W.T.C. Memorial Foundation when, and only when, 130 Liberty is down.

Crain’s New York Business reported last weekend, however, that Schick is reluctant to transfer ownership of 130 Liberty to the Port Authority until the completion of the 2003 agreement is finalized.

A Port Authority spokesperson, however, explained that the two parties can’t sign off on the agreement until 130 Liberty is fully demolished.

Hughes got annoyed at the mere thought of yet another hurdle, this time in the L.M.D.C.’s original plan to swap properties. “Why would they go back on the master plan,” she said, “particularly after the taking down of 130 Liberty took many more years than anticipated?”

L.M.D.C. Spokesperson John DeLibero declined to comment on the Crain’s article, but said that the L.M.D.C. is working closely with the Port Authority on 130 Liberty and issues pertaining to the redevelopment of the W.T.C.

The Port Authority, meanwhile, has “asked for and received access to the site,” according to DeLibero. A Port Authority spokesperson confirmed that it has already begun pre-construction activities on the site in preparation for the creation of the underground Vehicle Security Center, which is slated for completion in 2012.

Construction of the V.S.C. would begin immediately after the 130 Liberty-W.T.C. land swap is made, according to the Port Authority spokesperson.

The land swap and sunset provision aren’t the only two things the Downtown community is demanding.

Menin is also requesting the release of a Request for Expressions of Interest that would enable developers to bid on the construction of a mixed-use tower, known as Tower 5, at the 130 Liberty site.

She reiterated her stance on developing the site immediately as a mixed-use building – contrary the position of other L.M.D.C. board members including former board member Robert Lieber, who believed that development of the site should be postponed until the office and real estate markets begin to pick up.

Menin said Tower 5 should contain a mix of affordable housing units, a hotel and retail space.

Lower Manhattan is anticipating an estimated five million tourists annually in the coming years, coinciding with the redevelopment of the W.T.C., Menin noted. “With the few hotels that exist,” she said, “they will not be able to service the tourists.”

A large-scale infrastructure project such as this one, she added, would create immediate construction jobs that would “have a multiplier effect in terms of job creation.”

If Tower 5 is developed as a mixed-use site, she said, the Port Authority could monetize the value of the land with development rights and use the proceeds to build a much-needed performing arts center.

The center, Menin said, “could create even more jobs and fulfill the promise made to our Downtown community for years.”

The Port Authority, however, maintains that the center is scheduled to be built at site 1b, home to the temporary PATH station at the intersection of Vesey and Greenwich Streets. Underground infrastructure work, which the Port Authority board approved last year, is already underway.

The former Deutsche Bank building will be dismantled once and for all in the coming weeks, marking the end to a project plagued with delays, unanticipated expenses and a fire that killed two NYC firefighters.