News
11.18.2009
WTC Plan-B
PA readies backup plan for Ground Zero infrastructure

With the tenth anniversary of September 11 less than two years away, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is hustling to meet its latest deadlines at the World Trade Center site, which were reduced as of this summer to the completion of the memorial plaza and the temporary opening of Greenwich Street, with other pieces of the project being pushed further down the line. But that progress has been imperiled by the ongoing battle with developer Larry Silverstein over financing for Tower 2 and Tower 3.

Construction delays on the two towers will hamper structural, mechanical, and programmatic systems throughout the intricately connected, 16-acre area, since those components had been planned for incorporation into the buildings designed by Norman Foster and Richard Rogers. Now, to try and keep the puzzle pieces falling into place as delays drag on, the Port Authority’s board of directors authorized $20 million in design contracts on October 22.

That money will go to firms already working on the site’s redevelopment, and now charged with devising contingency plans to allow the timely completion of various projects around the 16-acre site, should the two towers be put on hold. The authority is emphatic that these changes will in no way affect designs of the two projects most impacted by the infrastructure work: the PATH station and One World Trade Center.

“Today’s actions allow us to continue our steady progress in Lower Manhattan,” Anthony Coscia, the board chair, said in a press release. “They demonstrate our resolve in moving ahead with the public component of the rebuilding effort.”

But not everyone believes the Port Authority is working in good faith. Local City Council representative Alan Gerson believes the move is simply a bargaining tactic in the arbitration that began last month. Since the private sector is suffering from the credit crunch, Silverstein wants the Port Authority to help finance both towers. But the authority has resisted such calls, offering only backstop funding for Tower 3. With negotiations dragging out for months, the parties have entered binding arbitration to reach a conclusion.

“To put this on hold or to go to a Plan-B puts us in the position of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Gerson said. Demand for office space will come back, he said, “so we have to be prepared for it.” Catherine McVay Hughes, co-chair of Community Board 1’s World Trade Center Committee, was more forgiving of the Port Authorirty, but she still wondered if the money would actually be spent, or simply had been appropriated as a show of force to Silverstein.

Steve Coleman, an authority spokeperson, acknowledged that the money had not yet been spent, but insisted it soon would be, and that designs would be complete by next spring. The upshot of the Port Authority’s alternative plans—whether aboveground or below—remains to be determined. “These various projects are all built together,” Coleman said. “You’ve got to keep moving forward on construction to finish on time, and if you take something out of the mix, you have to have a standby plan.”

Matt Chaban