Port closes in on retail deal, pushes back memorial date

By Julie Shapiro

The Westfield Group will return to the World Trade Center to run the retail space there, the Port Authority confirmed Tuesday.

The Port was scheduled to discuss the plan at its monthly board meeting, but the item disappeared from the agenda at the last minute. Anthony Shorris, executive director of the Port Authority, told the board that the plan “is not quite finished,” and he promised to present it at the next meeting.

Westfield owned the underground World Trade Center shops before 9/11, but the Port Authority bought them out for $140 million in 2003 when Westfield objected to the Port’s plan to expand the shops to street level. Now, pending final arrangements, Westfield is back.

“There’s a long history there,” Shorris said of Westfield’s relationship to the World Trade Center. “They understood the site before.” Shorris added that Westfield still had some legal rights to the property.

The selection of Westfield is an important step forward, said Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1.

“We want to make sure retail is built Downtown and is successful and happens on time,” Menin said. “Westfield clearly has a track record of doing this kind of work.”

Menin’s biggest concern is the type of retail the Trade Center will house.

“We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past,” Menin said, referring to the shops at South St. Seaport that cater largely to tourists. Menin doesn’t want to see a food court, bank branches or stores that are only open during weekday business hours. “That’s not going to activate street life,” Menin said. “It’s not going to create a 24-7 community.

“We want to be able to walk by World Trade Center site and see restaurants and stores open late at night,” Menin added. She hopes to see bookstores, toy stores, interesting clothing stores, restaurants and a grocery store.

Port Authority representatives will come to the C.B. 1 World Trade Center Committee in January, Menin said, and she hopes they will bring Westfield representatives as well.

At Tuesday’s full C.B. 1 meeting, Menin announced the Westfield deal and said Port Authority promised that the community board would have a say in the retail selected at the site.

Shorris and Anthony Coscia, chairperson of the Port Authority board, also fielded questions about other construction projects Downtown.

The World Trade Center memorial plaza, scheduled to open in 2009, will not open until 2010, Shorris said. Back in May, Downtown Express reported that only part of the plaza would be ready to open by Sept. 11, 2009, the target for the entire memorial. Now, Shorris said, the museum and visitor’s center will not be complete until 2011. The dates were pushed back because the steel framework that supports the plaza will not be done until 2009.

Menin, a member of the memorial foundation’s board, described the delay as “bad news” at Tuesday’s C.B. 1 meeting, but added that the Port will fast track the work as much as possible.

Another delayed project is the Deutsche Bank building decontamination and demolition, though Shorris said he is optimistic that the site will be ready for JP Morgan to begin construction at the site in September 2008.

Shorris’ optimism extended to the Port’s rapidly approaching end-of-year deadline for turning portions of the World Trade Center site over to Silverstein for development.

“Our plan is to allow them to begin construction Jan. 2,” Shorris said.