L.M.D.C. set to release $200 million in grants

BY Aline Reynolds

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation affirmed at last week’s board of directors meeting that it will go ahead with releasing $200 million in funds to sources other than utility companies.

The L.M.D.C. board amended its partial action plan back in July to make funds available for affordable housing, education, infrastructure, open space, quality of life, transportation, economic development and cultural facilities.

The various uses have now been lumped into three categories: cultural and community, economic development and housing, and infrastructure. Newly formed committees devoted to each area will decide on which projects are in need of the money and how much each will cost.

“The idea is we could all compete against each other,” said L.M.D.C. Chairman Avi Schick at the meeting. “Each group should quickly start meeting and outlining where they want [the money] to go… and come back to the board as quickly as possible.”

Schick said he’s holding off on scheduling the next board meeting “until the committees do their work.”

“It’s a serious task,” he continued. “The board will meet as soon as they’re done. Everyone wants this [process] to move quickly.”

But some board members still had unanswered questions.

“How do we know, for example, that the need isn’t greater in economic development, for example, than the other areas, if the groups are just meeting in isolation?” remarked Julie Menin, Community Board 1 chair.

Schick assured Menin that the board would fairly evaluate all the committee’s proposals so that board members can come to a collective decision as to how to ultimately allocate the grant money.

Menin also questioned the amount of public input that is going into this grant project. In a letter she sent last week to Schick, Menin wrote, “I am writing to express my concern… that there is not a public process in place for the approximately $200 million in remaining L.M.D.C. funds that have recently been allocated for disbursement. I request that the L.M.D.C. immediately put into place a public process before holding any meetings on these funds and I look forward to receiving your response.”

At the board meeting, Schick proposed to schedule a public session “where community members can come in and be heard.”

To date, the feedback has come from community and cultural groups in need of the grant money.

“I certainly agree with you about [having] a process that’s public and transparent,” Schick said to Menin. “If the public at large…doesn’t have confidence in this then we will not have succeeded.”

Meanwhile, Con Edison said it will continue to fight with the L.M.D.C. for the approximately $180 million in money owed to them for post-9/11 repair work.

“We believe utility reimbursement should happen first for all work related to 9/11 so utility customers don’t have to bear the cost through rates,” reiterated Michael Clendenin, Con Ed’s director of media relations. “Anything that’s left over can certainly be used for other projects.”

Con Edison, Verizon and other local utility companies originally staked a claim to the entire $200 million.

And as Downtown cultural groups struggle to stay afloat, the L.M.D.C. has still not released the approximately $16 million in leftover money for cultural and community enhancement funds from two previous rounds of grants.

Though the money was made available back in April, the process of releasing the Request for Proposals, which would enable the groups to apply for the grant money, has been stalled.

Kate Levin, commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs who serves on the L.M.D.C.’s board of directors, said the cultural and community committee has to weigh in on a total sum of money available to neighborhood cultural and community groups. “If we put out a Request for Proposals without some consensus on the money, it’s going to be enormously frustrating to organizations not to have any idea about the dollar amounts they could apply for,” she said at last week’s board meeting.

“It’s extremely alarming that no one can give an answer as to how much money is going to be in the R.F.P.,” Menin said in response. “Meanwhile, cultural groups are on the brink of going out of business.”

“Julie, I share that frustration,” responded Schick. “I think we can defer to Kate Levin on the needs of the cultural community [money]… but I think everybody’s sensitive to the frustration and we’ll try to move this forward.”