The PAC bill may be in the mail, Con Ed warns

By Josh Rogers

Con Edison is considering raising its rates if certain 9/11 funds it was counting on is used to help build an arts building at the World Trade Center.

David Gmach, Con Ed’s director of public affairs in the city, delivered that message to Community Board 1 Tuesday night, trying in vain to convince the board not to back an idea to transfer at least $150 million of Lower Manhattan Development Corp. money in order to build the proposed World Trade Center Performing Arts Center.

The money, part of a $750 million fund to repair and build utility infrastructure in Lower Manhattan, was meant "to prevent New Yorkers — residents and small business owners from all five boroughs — from having to to bear the burden of this restoration and recovery effort in the form of rate increases," Gmach said in a prepared statement to the board. "In effect these funds belong to New Yorkers who are paying to help restore and rebuild Lower Manhattan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks."

"What you are suggesting here is you would jack up people’s rates when Con Ed has received tens and tens of millions of dollars," Julie Menin, the board’s chairperson, shot back.

Con Ed has already received $161 million from the fund and has claims for $176 million more, according to a utility spokesperson. The fund is divided into categories and the $150 million is left over from parts of the fund where all claims have been resolved. Con Ed and Verizon, the fund’s other large recipient, also received insurance money from its 9/11-related damage, which is why so much money is left.

Gmach said Con Ed worked quickly to restore electricity to Lower Manhattan after the attack and is continuing to work in the rebuilding effort.

"I am sure many here can recall the electric cables laid across the streets to get the power back as quickly and safely as possible," he told C.B. 1.

The L.M.D.C. is still processing claims from utilities in other parts of the fund and that "review process should not be undermined because of the desire to fund a different project," Gmach added.

As he left the meeting, he said Con Ed has about 3 million customers in the city and in Westchester. It would mean a one-time fee of $50 to each customer if Con Ed were to try and make up the lost money evenly between its large and small clients.

But Con Ed would not be likely to get the entire pot even if it is not transferred to the PAC. Verizon has claims for an additional $45 million on top of the $185 million it already received, a company spokesperson told Downtown Express two weeks ago. If the money is transferred, it would still leave another $100 million in the utility fund, the bulk of which is likely to go to Con Ed and Verizon.

Menin, also an L.M.D.C. board member, has been leading the effort to use the utility money for the arts center and to move the proposed building from the northeast to the southwest corner of the site. A private L.M.D.C. study, which was reviewed by Downtown Express a few weeks ago, estimated the new possible location at the Tower 5 site would cost $170 million less to build, for a total of about $330 million. Because of Port Authority construction on the transit hub under the current PAC site it’ll be many years before construction could begin.

"Why on earth would we wait seven years to build this project," Menin asked.

She is not alone on the L.M.D.C. board in wanting to move the PAC to Tower 5, which is owned by the development corporation. Robert Douglass, also chairperson of the Downtown Alliance, said, "I want to see it built in our lifetime and at a price we can afford.”

Officially, the city and the L.M.D.C. have remained quiet about a possible PAC move, but the city clearly opposes it, and the corporation appears to be privately behind the conclusions reached in its own study.

The development corporation has a memorandum of understanding to swap its W.T.C. land with the Port Authority in exchange for the current PAC site and the memorial location. But neither side is obligated to go through with the swap and the Port has not raised objections, at least publicly, to moving the PAC to Tower 5. The L.M.D.C. study concludes that a slender residential building could be built over the PAC after it opens.

As for the community board, when it came time to discuss the resolution, members did not mention Con Ed’s warning about potentially higher electric bills. There was some discussion about who should be in the building. In addition to the Joyce dance company, Bob Townley said there should also be room for a 4,000-seat theater, large enough to draw acts like Bruce Springsteen, who released a 9/11-inspired album and whom Townley thought would want to play the W.T.C.

"The most attended cultural venues of our time are rock and R & B," Townley said.

Menin also wants to see other groups added: "I don’t think it should just be the Joyce….We need [other] world class organizations there."