More doubts cast on fate of W.T.C. performance space


By Ronda Kaysen

Will the cultural and performing arts centers at the new World Trade Center ever be built, or have the plans been tossed out with the International Freedom Center? When NY1 sought out answers from Gretchen Dykstra last week, the Memorial Foundation’s president and C.E.O. ducked the question a few times.

The future of the cultural buildings has come into doubt since Governor George Pataki summarily removed the International Freedom Center, a museum planned for the Snohetta-designed cultural center, from the W.T.C. master plan last month. Pataki dropped the museums after some victims’ family members criticized the proposed content. With the Freedom Center gone and the Drawing Center, a Soho-based museum also slated for the cultural center, searching for a new home, the fate of the Snohetta building is anything but certain.

The performing arts center, the other cultural facility at the site, is now in a precarious position as well. Some are worried that the content questions which drove the museums away could be applied to the Signature Theater and the Joyce Theater, the two performance groups selected to be across the street from the memorial.

“That’s a real concern,” Carl Weisbrod, an L.M.D.C. board member and head of Trinity Real Estate, told Downtown Express earlier this month. “It shouldn’t.”

At an Oct. 20 press conference celebrating $101 million raised for the memorial, Pataki indicated that the families critical of the cultural institutions still have his ear and if they raise concerns about the Joyce or Signature theaters, he will heed their calls. “People appreciate that we have to be respectful to everyone and have to listen to the needs of everyone,” he told reporters. “We will continue to reach out and work with them [the family members] and engage them as much as possible.”

The foundation, a nonprofit organization free of the entanglements of political appointees, will eventually wield tremendous power Downtown. In addition to raising half a billion dollars for the memorial, museum and cultural facilities, it will own and operate those facilities, overseeing an estimated 7 to 8 million visitors a year.

In an Oct. 20 interview with Davidson Golden of NY 1, Dykstra avoided several opportunities to voice a firm commitment to the cultural buildings. “What will happen to that cultural building, the L.M.D.C. has not yet decided. We’re focused on the memorial and the memorial museum,” she said, adding later. “I think the [memorial] museum that we are in the process of designing and conceiving and shaping would be a wonderful sort of glue for the entire memorial quadrant.”

Later in the interview, she again backed away from committing to the Snohetta building. “Ultimately the foundation is responsible for the memorial, the memorial museum and possibly two cultural buildings. We have to see how it falls. At the moment L.M.D.C. and the foundation are crunching numbers, we want to see the costs.”

Lynn Rasic, a spokesperson to Dykstra insists her boss is simply being practical in discussing timelines. The foundation, she said, remains committed to the construction of the performing arts center. “There is a strong commitment to building this facility,” she said. However, “Our first priority is raising the funds that are needed for the memorial and the memorial museum.”

Rasic was less certain about what would ultimately be housed inside the performing arts building. The L.M.D.C. is “in charge of the plans and the selection of tenants.”

As for the Snohetta building, “We think this is doable and we can create a unified experience that will be very moving.”

Rasic said Dykstra was not available to comment for this story.

Meanwhile, the Memorial Foundation is full speed ahead on its mission to raise $500 million for the memorial. In July, the foundation announced that only after funding for the memorial is secured would the foundation begin to consider raising funds for the Snohetta building or the performing arts center.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which selected the four original cultural institutions and still governs the cultural content, maintains its commitment to the cultural programs. “The Snohetta building will be in the same place, we absolutely are committed to that and we are moving ahead with the performing arts center,” John Gallagher, an L.M.D.C. spokesperson told Downtown Express. The plan for the Snohetta building is to make it part of the memorial museum.

The L.M.D.C. committed $55 million to the performing arts center, Gallagher added. In contrast, the corporation set aside $300 million for the Memorial Foundation.

The cultural and performing arts centers are estimated to cost as much as $200 million a piece. Eventually, the L.M.D.C. will hand the reins of the cultural and performing arts centers to the foundation, ceding control.


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