Hometown pride and progress


BY Sheldon Silver

The future of Lower Manhattan has never looked brighter. Out of the tragedy of the most devastating attack our nation has ever known, Downtown is being reborn. Not only has our community begun to regain so much of what was lost, we are now poised to far surpass even the most optimistic predictions for our future and reclaim our role as the most vital, economically robust and culturally rich neighborhood in the world.

Despite the difficult economy, the unmistakable hum of progress surrounds us everywhere. Whether it is the massive influx of new residents transforming our streets into one of the city’s greatest residential neighborhoods, or the rising steel of the new World Trade Center tower, Lower Manhattan is a magnet for new investment and the central focus of our city’s renewed hope.

Four years ago, I crafted a “Marshall Plan” to revitalize our community and guide us into the second decade of the 21st Century and beyond. With this plan we are reasserting our role as the city’s economic engine but also hastening our development as a 24/7 mixed-use community boasting the best parks, schools, research facilities, libraries and community centers. The plan has been a phenomenal success. Today, there are more than 60,000 people living south of Chambers Street, double the number of those there before September 11, 2001.

Clearly, Lower Manhattan continues to become more and more attractive to young families. With that in mind, I am working tirelessly to ensure our neighborhoods have the amenities to meet the needs of our growing population.

In September, we celebrated the opening of the new Public School 276, one of two new elementary schools that opened thanks to the hard work and dedication of my School Overcrowding Task Force. The other, the Spruce Street School, will move into its new home at the Frank Gehry-designed Beekman Tower next year. In order to keep up with the rapidly expanding population, we are also seeking sites to open more new schools, including the Peck Slip Post Office building, which I am pushing the federal government to sell to the Department of Education.

As we rebuild, I am also making sure that we address safety concerns on West Street. At my urging, pedestrian managers are helping to keep several dangerous intersections safe, a matter that has taken on new urgency since our children are walking to and from P.S. 276 in Battery Park City. To further enhance safety and to help better connect Battery Park City with the rest of the community, I expect a pedestrian bridge to be built over West Thames Street.

Over the last year, Downtown has seen an impressive array of new recreational space open. Imagination Park, near South Street Seaport, has been hailed as one of the city’s most innovative playground designs, engaging children physically and creatively. We have also celebrated the opening of the new West Thames Park and DeLury Park and we recently honored Albert Capsouto, a longtime community activist and Lower Manhattan business owner who was taken from us too soon, by renaming a park for him. Construction is moving ahead on new pedestrian plazas at Allen and Pike streets, which will serve as gateways to the East River Esplanade, a long overdue reclamation of our waterfront that will give residents near the East River the same stunning parkland that those near the Hudson River now enjoy.

While Downtown residents have been forced to endure the inconveniences caused by the massive construction going on, we will soon reap the rewards of this investment in our infrastructure. The Fulton Street Transit Center, a “Grand Central Station” for Downtown, will open up our community like never before and provide an even greater draw for new businesses.

With this investment, and with the tax breaks and financial incentives I proposed, businesses large and small are relocating here, jobs are being created, and green, energy-efficient construction practices are being rewarded. In fact, over the last five years, more than 250 firms have relocated to Lower Manhattan.

Water Street is being transformed into a pedestrian-friendly business district that will lure new retail to complement the impressive roster of commercial tenants that already call that area home.

Ground has been broken for a new, state-of-the-art Fiterman Hall that will feature classrooms and a new art gallery. Downtown Hospital now has its first MRI suite and construction of a new Health and Wellness Center is under way. Gouverneur Hospital, which serves the Lower East Side and Chinatown, will soon have its own brand-new, modern medical center that will greatly expand its ability to deliver the high-quality services the hospital has been providing for over a century.

Just recently, I joined Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson in announcing an agreement for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to allocate $100 million for construction of a Downtown Performing Arts Center, which will become an icon of our city and a cultural jewel of Downtown for generations to come.

The most visible sign of our success in rebuilding Lower Manhattan is the World Trade Center. After years of delays, stalemate and frustration, I am pleased to say that we have, at long last, achieved a breakthrough.

Thanks to an agreement reached earlier this year between Silverstein Properties and the Port Authority, we can finally tell the city, the nation and the world that we are on our way to a full build-out of the Trade Center site. With Conde Nast expected to lease one million square feet at 1 World Trade, the steel skeleton of which is now visible throughout Downtown, and with agreements being signed for space in other buildings at the site, we are beginning to see the shape of what will eventually replace all that was destroyed on 9/11.

Trees are being planted at the Memorial Plaza, a peaceful, solemn place where 9/11 families and visitors from around the world can contemplate the tragedy that changed our lives. This plaza, with its breathtaking design, will take its place as the most prominent of our city’s great monuments to triumph and tragedy, and will be open on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. Beneath the plaza, the 9/11 Memorial Museum will serve as a permanent archive for our collective memories and a powerful reminder of what we have suffered and how we have persevered.

When the world looks at our Downtown skyline it will see a community, a city, a nation that will not be defeated or diminished. We owe it to the victims, their families, and our whole community to ensure that Lower Manhattan comes back stronger and better than ever before.

Our community has always been the gateway to hope and opportunity for countless generations of immigrant Americans. May we always be a shining example to the world of what courage, ingenuity and our ever-renewable spirit of creativity can achieve. Lower Manhattan has indeed come back, and I am more proud than ever of my great hometown community.

Sheldon Silver serves as Speaker of the New York State Assembly.