What exactly, are we building?

Last week there was long-awaited and welcome news announcing the allocation of $100 million for the planned Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center. The P.A.C. will be built at what is commonly called Site 1B, which is at the intersection of Vesey and Greenwich Sts., just to the east of One W.T.C. The temporary PATH entrance occupies that location now.

There has always been agreement that part of the response to the incomprehensible evil of the terror attacks would be beauty, art, and culture, and the P.A.C. was an integral component of the master plan for the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan. With this announcement, important funds are finally being committed for a cultural institution that would be the downtown pole to Lincoln Center, one that would attract visitors from all five boroughs, from all over the state, the country and the world.

The Mayor, the Assembly Speaker, the Governor, and State and U.S. Senators all praised the announcement as a momentous moment for the future of our burgeoning neighborhood.

This is all well and good, minus one little detail… who, exactly, will occupy this storied P.A.C.?

When it was initially conceived, the W.T.C. site was supposed to have four cultural institutions: The International Freedom Center and the Drawing Center, to be housed in a Snohetta designed cultural center building; and the Joyce Theater and the Signature Theater, to be housed in a Frank Gehry designed P.A.C. In 2005, Governor George Pataki pulled the Freedom Center and the Drawing Center from the plans after victim’s groups objected to what they perceived as inappropriate political subject matter. In 2007, after city officials saw Gehry’s idea for a large center for the Joyce and Signature theaters, they removed the Signature Theater to save on costs. Now, there is only one tenant left: the Joyce Theater, a dance company with venues in Soho and Chelsea.

The Joyce is a fine and vibrant institution and we know its performances will fill seats on a regular basis. But it clearly cannot be the sole tenant at this magnificent center, and as monies are now finally being committed, it is not too early to begin the discussion of exactly what should this center is to be, and what groups it should house.

Assembly Speaker Silver told the Downtown Express the allocation of funds are a great step forward in terms of establishing a separate fundraising entity to focus solely on the P.A.C. We agree. Originally the 9/11 Museum and Memorial board was to fundraise for both the memorial and the P.A.C. Subsequently, they dropped the P.A.C. from their agenda and decided to concentrate on the memorial – a wise decision.

The time is now ripe to set up a 501c3 institution to help nurture and navigate the P.A.C. from idea to reality. Its board will have a huge responsibility and opportunity to formulate a vision for this center and to begin a search for its core artistic institutions, not to speak of completing its financing.

But there is another misstep in the long and tortuous early history of the P.A.C. — the failure to carefully investigate, debate, and discuss moving the P.A.C. to another location. While all interested parties have settled on Site 1B, there was a tax-payer funded feasibility study conducted by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in late winter that never saw the light of day. We obtained a copy of the study and while it makes a good argument on cost considerations and timing considerations for an alternate location, Site 1B apparently will ultimately house the P.A.C..

This however was a missed opportunity to have a public dialogue and to fully vet this study that remained under lock and key, until now.

Nothing harmful ever comes from transparency.