Port provides update to WTC Committee

BY Aline Reynolds

Port Authority officials presented an update of the World Trade Center construction site at Monday night’s Community Board 1 W.T.C. Redevelopment Committee.

Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority, presented a slideshow update on the current state of the new site.

Work on the memorial site is moving along as planned. The steel infrastructure of the memorial museum’s pavilion entrance is now between 60 and 70 percent complete.

“We feel like we’re really gaining momentum,” Ward said of the project. “I think having this completed for the 10-year anniversary will characterize the completion of the memorial.”

Twenty-five out of about 60 swamp white oak trees have been delivered to the memorial site; the remainder will be planted by the end of October, when the project will halt until next spring.

“It won’t simply be a memorial,” he said. “It’ll be a place where office workers grab a sandwich, cut across the plaza on a rainy day as a shortcut to work.” Ward referred to the future 9/11 Memorial as “an incredible oasis of green Downtown.”

One W.T.C. is now 40 stories high, rising at a continued construction rate of about one floor per week.

“The building will be 90 stories high by the 10-year anniversary of 9/11,” Ward said.

Work on the Transportation Hub is also moving along, Ward reported – 700,000 square feet have been built below grade. The construction workers were able to dismantle temporary PATH platforms without disrupting transit service.

“We’ve successfully avoided outages on the PATH system which we’re very proud of,” Ward said. Workers are now constructing the hub’s mezzanine floor, which will be located underneath the park of the 9/11 Memorial. “We’ll be making considerable progress in the coming months,” Ward said. The hub is slated for an on-time completion in 2014.

Conde Nast’s show of interest in leasing office space in one W.T.C. is a “game-changer for Downtown,” Ward said. “The relationship with that type of employee would have with Downtown… I think will be really dramatic.”

The large-scale media company would also nurture the area’s housing sector, he said, since it caters to a primarily urban work force.

“Construction is now underway on all parts of the site – it’s [been] a heck of a challenge, but it’s never been at that point before, and that’s something to celebrate,” said Janno Lieber, president of Silverstein Properties. And though Silverstein and the Port have come a long way in achieving that goal, their jobs are not quite finished, he said.

“We don’t just have to fill the buildings as a leasing matter,” Lieber said. “We have to make sure we have the kind of tenants that are going to support [Downtown] culture.” One of the goals, he mentioned, is to secure office tenants for all of Tower 4 by the end of 2010. Six out of 64 stories of the tower has been built. Lieber pointed out the adhesive, dense fireproofing as a major safety feature of the future building. Its lobby, which will face Memorial Park, will have a granite wall reflecting the trees as a sign of respect to the park.

The W.T.C. is “a very special place that we hope will be an urban model for the country and even for the world,” he said, “and we’ve gotten most of the way there.”

The foundations of Towers 2 and 3 have been excavated, with set completion dates of 2012 and 2014-15, respectively. Greenwich Street, meanwhile, is expected to be fully restored by 2014.

Ward said the Port is committed to helping rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church on its original footprint on Liberty Street, and to expand it by 50 percent. The initial plan was a large-scale $60 million project that would have delayed the construction of the Vehicle Security Center.

“It would be entirely appropriate, and we’re working with the Mayor to bring that negotiation to a successful conclusion,” Ward said.

Committee member Marc Ameruso asked whether the Port Authority could seize ownership of the property, to which Ward replied, “If [the church] fails to negotiate in good faith, we’d have to invoke some condemnation via eminent domain, but we have no intention of doing that.”

The current plan is to come to a mutual agreement with the church.

“This is very exciting — we really appreciate you coming back,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, chair of the W.T.C. Redevelopment Committee, in response to the Port’s slideshow.

Ward assured the committee of the strengthened relationship between the Port and Silverstein in light of the recent financial agreement: “In all aspects we have certainty, for the first time, and a level of progress and public accountability,” he said.

Ward said the Port is finalizing negotiations with Westfield Group, an Australian shopping mall operator, to create approximately 500,000 square feet in retail space in Towers 2, 3 and 4.

And though the Port and Silverstein have made major strides in the W.T.C. redevelopment project, “Next year will be the hardest year,” Ward said, particularly in readying for the opening of the memorial and forging ahead with the restoration of Greenwich Street.