Possibly a watershed year for Lower Manhattan


BY Julie Menin

It’s been an extraordinary year for Community Board 1. Even as we remain in the grip of a long and severe recession, C.B. 1 has managed to identify a treasure trove of unspent funds at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. And after months of tenacious advocacy and questioning, the L.M.D.C. agreed to reallocate those funds for projects that will directly go toward the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan at a time we need it the most.  

Here’s a quick overview of what happened: C.B. 1 had been pressing the L.M.D.C. since the beginning of the year to present a full accounting of the funds it has not yet spent, and at a meeting of our World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee in March, we first learned from L.M.D.C. president David Emil that an incredible $275 million remained.  

In the wake of this remarkable discovery, I led a public fight to get these funds reallocated, not for the utility companies as originally slated, so that real and immediate needs in Lower Manhattan could be addressed by funding projects that will benefit small businesses, develop affordable housing in Lower Manhattan, address educational needs, and create jobs.  

I have also pushed to ensure that the funds are reallocated through a public, transparent process involving a Request for Proposals. We must not allow these funds to be distributed for pet projects in a smoky backroom. There are numerous worthy projects related to waterfront development, affordable housing, education, parks, local businesses, and many other areas. Only through a public process can we solicit the best and the brightest (and most visionary) ideas for disbursing these funds and involve the public in a meaningful way in the allocation of federal taxpayer money.  

I was very grateful when my colleagues on the L.M.D.C. board voted to support my position in favor of reallocating these federal monies, and I am excited about the possibilities that stretch before us. 

As the year draws to a close, we also have the potential to do something truly important for the community, city and nation such as a large infrastructure project that will create jobs now and in the future and make a dramatic difference in the life of our community. 

The construction of a Performing Arts Center is clearly such a project. It would revitalize Lower Manhattan in a significant way — remaking downtown as a cultural center of the city, and strengthening its position as its economic heart. Cultural centers around the country including the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles have been engines for the economic revitalization of their communities. Particularly, when the city faces an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, we should be funding projects that create immediate construction jobs and long-term jobs. For this reason, I advocated strongly and successfully for $100 million of the L.M.D.C. funds to be allocated for the P.A.C.  

Unfortunately, construction on the P.A.C. is currently not scheduled to start for a number of years, given that its planned location on what is called “Site 1B” of the World Trade Center. That site cannot be developed until work on the transit hub designed by Santiago Calatrava is complete, and the transit hub is significantly behind schedule. I have therefore urged the city to look at other options such as the Tower 5 site, the former Deutsche Bank building, that would allow work on the P.A.C. to begin much sooner.  

The L.M.D.C. recently completed a feasibility study for the W.T.C. Tower 5 site, where the demolition of the Deutsche Bank building is nearly complete. The study has not been publicly released, but it should be now, as the public has a right to assess this option. I have reviewed the document, and it indicates that we can build the P.A.C. now on Tower 5, where the study says it would cost $325 million.  Given that LMDC has already allocated $50 million to the P.A.C. project, the additional $100 million would get us a good part of the way there. 

In contrast, proceeding to build the PAC at Site 1B, which will not be ready for many years, has been estimated to cost $450 million. Given the tortured history of the W.T.C. site, it is likely that by that time, costs will have increased significantly, and with each passing year, it will only become more difficult to build.  To build on a site that is $125 million more expensive and one where we cannot start construction for some time does not make sense. For these reasons, I have urged the city to seriously consider the Tower 5 site or any other alternative that could expedite construction of the P.A.C. downtown.

According to the feasibility study, the P.A.C. could be built at the base of Tower 5, with a possibility for mixed use above it, providing an opportunity for much needed 80/20 affordable housing.

Currently, there is just one cultural tenant (the Joyce Theater) slated for the P.A.C. Originally there were to be four cultural tenants on the site and I call on the city to reopen the process of selecting tenants for the P.A.C. so that other world-class institutions can take up residence there along with the Joyce Theater.  For the P.A.C. to be a truly world class cultural center, we need a mix of cultural tenants—including visual arts, theater and music.  We should now begin a worldwide search to add additional tenants to the project.

In short, we have real work ahead of us but also a tremendous opportunity – one we cannot afford to squander. We are on the brink of groundbreaking new possibilities in Lower Manhattan, and the year 2010 may be seen in the future as a watershed for the downtown community—the year we persevered despite extremely tough economic times, and finally made some major headway at the World Trade Center site and gave a critical boost to the redevelopment of our community by finding and reclaiming $275 million. 


Julie Menin is Chair of Community Board 1 and also sits on the L.M.D.C. Board of Directors.