Gerson's WTC Statement

The World Trade Center site is one of the most technically complicated modern construction projects ever undertaken: the building of five high rise towers, concomitantly, on a sixteen acre site over two train lines; issues of unprecedented toxicities and missing human remains; all in the middle of a bustling residential and business district.   The architects, engineers and workers on the ground deserve credit for the performance of a difficult task, and interruptions, unexpected technical problems and delays should have been anticipated from its inception. 

What remains inexcusable is needless political exacerbation of the difficulties rather than public sector facilitation of the complexities.  This process has been plagued by: false expectations generated by political grandstanding; delays in providing necessary funding to critical job components; the failure to create reasonable and responsible budgets for project components; the avoidance or postponement of difficult but necessary political decisions; and a lack of full transparency and accountability in all government agencies and activities.

Governor Paterson and the new Port Authority Executive Director, Christopher Ward deserve great credit for restoring governmental efficacy in the rebuilding process.  The Governor’s demand for a top-to-bottom reassessment, and the preliminary report issued by the Executive Director provide desperately needed doses of reality, transparency and accountability.  Mayor Bloomberg deserves credit for his partnership and involvement in this new expeditious and efficient approach.
      
The extraordinary economic conditions faced by Lower Manhattan, our city and the nation should accelerate work at Ground Zero. The history of recovery in past times of economic distress has involved large-scale public works projects.  Ground Zero is a great public works project, a statement of confidence and moral uplift.  It is also a desperately needed economic stimulus, more important now than ever since 9/11.
       
The Lower Manhattan Redevelopment projects on and off the World Trade Center site must also position Lower Manhattan to be ready with adequate transportation and infrastructure as well as sufficient  space to meet the future demands of the inevitable upturn in the economy as it occurs.  We owe it to the 2800 innocent people who lost their lives as they went about their work, sustaining and building our economy; to the heroes who risked or sacrificed their lives to save others; and to the community residents who rallied and remained to support each other and to rebuild their neighborhoods.  We must tell each of their stories and complete the rest of the job safely, efficiently, democratically and without delay.

Now is the time to demonstrate Lower Manhattan’s most visionary and effective public sector. I have set forth, below, seventeen specific next steps necessary to move the World Trade Center site and Lower Manhattan redevelopment projects forward.  These recommendations, which should be implemented immediately, follow from the series of hearings of the City Council’s Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment, which I chair, and from numerous conversations I have had with community members and leaders, including community board members, and the entities involved in the projects. I call on the Governor and the Mayor to provide the leadership necessary to implement these next steps. I call on Chris Ward of the Port Authority of NY/NJ  to incorporate these next steps into his plan of action, recognizing that even on those measures over which the Port does not exercise direct control, the Executive Director’s recommendations will carry great weight.

On October 6, 2008, the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee will conduct its next oversight hearing. At that time we will expect the Port Authority, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and other relevant agencies to report on their response to these recommendations, as well as to the full report issued by Christopher Ward and the ensuing timetable for Ground Zero, Fiterman Hall, and the Fulton Street Station.

17 Steps for Getting the World Trade Center Site Project Back on Track

1.  APPOINT AN AUDITOR GENERAL TO MONITOR ALL LOWER MANHATTAN REDEVELOPMENT PROJECTS.  We need one auditor general to monitor the World Trade Center site, 130 Liberty Street, Fiterman Hall and the Fulton Street Transit Hub.  All of these projects involve state agencies.  An auditor general will monitor progress and spending, keep an eye out for delays and cost overruns and present options for synergies and cost-saving measures, including cross-project efficiencies.  What has been missing from the governance of Lower Manhattan redevelopment has been one accountable official with access to all relevant information and monitoring and reporting responsibilities. 

Our governmental system is founded on checks and balances, which have been entirely missing from the Lower Manhattan redevelopment process. The independent authorities carrying out these projects are exempt from normal auditing by the State Comptroller or City Comptroller and from normal oversight by the State Legislature or City Council.  This was a mistake from the start.  It is too late to totally recreate the governance structure of the rebuilding efforts.  But the appointment of an auditor general will provide the needed check and balance moving forward.

The auditor general should serve at the governor’s pleasure, report directly to the governor and mayor, issue periodic public progress reports and appear regularly before the City Council and State Legislature. The Port Authority, the MTA, the LMDC, the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center (LMCCC) and all agencies involved in any projects must be required to open their books and plans to the auditor general. Christopher Ward, no matter how capable, serves the Board of Directors of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and thus could not be in the position to audit it and the other authorities. Many of us thought that this was part of what the LMDC was supposed to do in the first place.  The LMDC should, however, now provide funds to support the auditor general. 

2.  REAFFIRM THE 9/11/11 DEADLINE FOR PERMANENTLY OPENING THE MEMORIAL PLAZA.  Past unrealistic timetables should not be taken as an excuse for establishing no timetable.  Deadlines serve an important purpose.  We would not have reached the moon when we did if President Kennedy had not set that ten-year deadline.  By all accounts, there exist no technical or physical reasons why the Memorial Plaza cannot be completed by the tenth anniversary.  The governor and mayor must direct all agencies to work together to make this happen.

3. MODIFY PATH TRAIN MEZZANINE TO ACHIEVE SIMPLE ELEGANCE WITH COLUMNS.  Utilizing columns to support the #1 train, rather than the more complex suspension system under consideration, would save money and time.  We estimate the savings in the millions of dollars.  The columns will also expedite utility work under Greenwich Street and thus assure timely progress.  This will save money and help assure progress on the memorial and other ground zero sectors.  It will also allow for the setting of a timetable for the rebuilding and remapping of Greenwich Street, which will be critical for access to the Memorial. Grandiosity has its place, including within this site, but the PATH station achieves sufficient grandiosity in the Eagle structure and the main hall.  What is essentially a passageway for commuters rushing to and from their trains and pedestrians rushing between the World Financial Center and Church Street can be built elegantly with columns and with less expense

4. WITHIN 90 DAYS THE MTA MUST RE-ISSUE BID SPECIFICATIONS FOR THE FULTON STREET TRANSIT HUB—WITH SPECIFICATION CHANGES AIMED AT LOWERING COSTS BY AT LEAST $200 MILLION.   At a hearing of the City Council’s committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment held in April, 2008, the MTA pledged to reissue bid specifications within 30 days.  This has not happened.  Further delay is inexcusable.  The MTA testified that it planned to divide the work and issue separate bid requests for each of the major discrete parts of the project in order to optimize efficiency and expertise and to minimize costs.  That still makes sense, as the best subterranean contractor is not necessarily the best aboveground structural contractor. 

The Fulton Street Transit Hub is a critical component of Lower Manhattan’s future.  Its transit connections are needed to optimize downtown’s accessibility.  Its retail and street level presence, including the promised replacement of the scores of retail cleared out for this project, will anchor the future of a thriving Fulton Street corridor. 

The longer we wait, the more expensive this project will get.  The basic contours of the project, including the design for the transit hub, should remain the same. It is clear however, that fewer internal flourishes and excesses, with the aim of simple elegance in method and outcome, could save the project millions of dollars. 

In addition, the Corbin building’s restoration can be deferred without detracting from the train station or the main entrance. Indeed, the Corbin building should not be part of the transit hub.  It should be sold, restored and turned into office space.  To integrate a historic building into a transit center is overly complex.  To remove the Corbin building from the site could save hundreds of millions of dollars.

5.  FULLY FUND FITERMAN HALL’S RECONSTRUCTION IMMEDIATELY.  Fiterman Hall provided critical classroom space for the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC).  Over 21,000 degree students from all over the City are enrolled at BMCC this semester, making it by far the largest community college in all of New York City.  The necessary funds must be allocated now in order to avoid another hole in the ground in Lower Manhattan and to mitigate spiraling costs.  New York’s Dormitory Authority will not allow City University of New York (CUNY) to contract for reconstruction until full funding is allocated. CUNY officials anticipate that the remediation process (the cleaning of Fiterman Hall) will be completed by the end of January 2009 and that demolition will be completed by summer 2009.  The contracting process is such that it needs to begin imminently, requiring full funding, in order for construction to begin immediately upon deconstruction. 

Delay in Fiterman Hall’s reconstruction will retard overall downtown development, including the ability of Silverstein Properties to rent office space at 7 World Trade Center, which is opposite Fiterman Hall.  Eventually, Fiterman Hall will have to be rebuilt.  The longer we wait, the more it will cost taxpayers.

With classes scheduled in the daytime, evening and weekends, and additional adult and continuing education programs in high demand from the community, we must do everything within our power to expedite the process of demolishing and building a new Fiterman Hall. 

6. REAFFIRM THE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (PAC) AT THE PROPOSED LOCATION, WITH THE 1,000-SEAT THEATER IN A GEHRY DESIGNED BUILDING, WITH THE JOYCE THEATER AS THE ANCHOR TENANT. Specifically the LMDC must do the following: establish the 501(c)(3) entity that will raise funds for the project, along with a strong board of directors and dynamic leadership and allow fundraising to begin. The LMDC must reaffirm the previous commitment of $50 million to the site.  There must be a recommitment to building a Gehry-designed, 1000-seat theater.  There must also be a reaffirming of the Joyce Theater as the anchor tenant of the PAC.

The LMDC and Port Authority must jointly make it clear to the world that the Performing Arts Center will be built.  The 1,000-seat theater remains important to serve a gap of that theater size in our city’s cultural infrastructure. The Joyce remains the most viable and appropriate anchor tenant.  The center is important to the community’s future, as well as to the spirit of the site.  All governmental entities involved in reconstructing the World Trade Center site must remain faithful to the entire original concept for the site:  the Memorial, to commemorate the infinite worth and stories of the lives lost; the commercial to carry on the work of those lives; and the cultural, to celebrate life itself.

7. THE PORT AUTHORITY MUST ISSUE A TIMELINE FOR THE TURNOVER OF TOWER 2 TO SILVERSTEIN PROPERTIES IMMEDIATELY AND ISSUE A STATUS REPORT AND TIMETABLE, WITH BENCHMARKS FOR THE COMPLETION OF ANY OUTSTANDING INFRASTRUCTURE WORK ON THE SITES FOR TOWERS 2,  3 AND 4  The timetable must project when site 2 will be turned over to Silverstein Properties and when all infrastructure work on  sites 3 and 4 (which have already been turned over) will be completed.  Until then, the Port must issue periodic reports on the status of the timeline, with explanations of any extensions.  Obviously, unfolding economic events may impact the programming of the site, but the infrastructure will be required for any future development to take place.

8. IMMEDIATELY CONVENE A MEMORIAL ACCESS PLANNING GROUP.  This group should combine site designers, architects, the NYPD, and other security agencies on the site and community representatives, with the goal of achieving the most open and easy access that prudent security will allow.  The group should develop plans for interim access to the Memorial for the tenth anniversary and permanent access upon completion of the entire site.  Important security and design details need to be addressed now because of their relevance to infrastructure construction.  Delaying this process could delay or impede the Memorial’s opening.  It makes no sense to open the Memorial Plaza if it cannot be accessed.

9.  THE LMDC MUST RELEASE DESIGN SPECIFICATIONS. A number of years ago, the LMDC drafted design specifications for the World Trade Center site that were never released.  These site design specifications cover criteria for planting, pavement type, street and sidewalk furniture, lighting and light poles, curb cuts, and façade appearance and other material pertaining to the streetscape, grounds, and building fronts of the site.  These design specifications could affect infrastructure now under construction as well as security measures.  Finalizing the specifications forthwith could avoid needless costs and extra work.  The LMDC should release its draft specifications and then proceed swiftly to a public hearing and ultimate adoption of the specifications.

10.  NYPD AND FDNY MUST CONDUCT AND RELEASE A FULL SECURITY AND FIRE SAFETY AUDIT OF PLANS FOR THE UNDERGROUND MUSEUM.  A full, joint security review by NYPD and FDNY, based on all applicable New York City codes, as well as other governmental regulations and state-of-the-art measures, should be completed and certified by the agencies. We cannot once more complete plans only to have security agencies send them back to the drawing board.  Several family groups have raised questions about security measures, entrances, exits, ramps, and other aspects of security precautions planned for the underground museum. They may be right or wrong, in whole or in part, but these family groups and the public deserve to know definitively.

11. PRODUCE A LOWER MANHATTAN BUS PLAN WITHIN NINE MONTHS.  This could be done in-house or by retained experts in consultation with the community.  The Memorial tour buses are coming, but no one knows where they will lay over, where they will drop off and pick up passengers and what routes they will take. Lower Manhattan already faces a bus invasion, with more long-distance bus passengers than the midtown Port Authority bus terminal, according to police statistics.  Combine this with tour buses, commuter buses, casino buses and all manner of charter buses. We need a plan to protect the area’s quality of life and the ambience of the Memorial, which will be a major destination. The different buses share many of the same streets, routes, stops, and might most efficiently share the same parking facilities. The report must therefore lay out options for all bus categories for all of downtown from at least south of Ninth Street. Again, this needs to be worked out now because it could have an impact on the underground parking facility and related infrastructure presently under construction at the World Trade Center site. 

12.  THE LMDC MUST IMMEDIATELY ISSUE A DETAILED STATUS REPORT AND TIMETABLE ON 130 LIBERTY STREET AND PROVIDE REGULAR UPDATES.  The LMCCC should continue to play an active oversight role at 130 Liberty Street.  However, we are reluctant to recommend a governance overhaul for fear that this could only generate further delay.  This project’s delay stems from past mistakes, including ignoring sound practices demanded by community groups and elected officials.  However, the LMDC’s current administration has it right with the decoupling of decontamination and demolition, and ongoing safety measures.  In order to prevent further delay, the LMDC must provide a timetable and detailed monthly progress reports, including explanations for any failures to meet the timetable.  Much of this is now being done verbally at periodic task force meetings.  Given the past history of this project, these reports need to be formalized in writing, with as much detail as possible.

13.  CLOSE VESEY STREET BETWEEN CHURCH STREET AND WEST BROADWAY, BUT ONLY IF THE PORT AUTHORITY MEETS THE BURDEN OF DEMONSTRATING THAT TO DO SO WOULD MATERIALLY SAVE TIME OR PROVIDE FOR GREATER SAFETY The imperative to avoid delay at the World Trade Center site appears to far outweigh the inconvenience of the temporary street closure.  The Vesey Street block that would be closed does not have residences or businesses needing to access the street.  However, the Port Authority must put in place means to compensate for the closure, such as widened sidewalks on adjoining streets, additional signage, additional traffic enforcement agents, and shuttle buses, including a shuttle bus connection with Battery Park City.  Vesey Street should not be closed any longer than is absolutely necessary.  The Port Authority should regularly update the community as to the progress of the work performed and whether there is a continuing need to keep that section of Vesey Street closed. Local Law 24 must be followed in letter and spirit, to ensure proper community input and notification.

14.  CONTINUE THE STEERING COMMITTEE RECENTLY ESTABLISHED BY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR WARD.  By all accounts, the steering committee established by Chris Ward has provided improved coordination among the public and private entities working on or regulating the World Trade Center site.  Representation by the Mayor’s office on the steering committee should include the NYPD in order to assure full interagency coordination and to avoid the delays due to lack of such coordination, which have occurred in the past.

15. CONTINUE THE PORT AUTHORITY  BRIEFINGS FOR FAMILY MEMBERS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS IN LOWER MANHATTAN.  By all accounts, the direct meetings between high-ranking Port Authority figures and representatives of family groups and local community representatives have not only reduced tensions but provided valuable input. These briefings should take place on a regular basis. They should be expanded to include the Memorial Museum and the MTA.  In addition, we urge the Port Authority to continue to hold monthly open meetings of its board of directors focused exclusively on the World Trade Center.  These board meetings must be held at a location in Lower Manhattan to maximize the number of community members who may wish to attend.  We suggest the Conference Center of the New York Academy of Sciences at 7 World Trade Center, overlooking the site, reminding us all of the progress that can be made.

16. INTEGRATE THE TRIBUTE CENTER PERMANENTLY INTO THE MUSEUM ENTRANCE BUILDING.  This building is supposed to provide orientation exhibitions as well as security and ticketing functions.  The Tribute Center has provided orientation admirably since it opened.  Lee Ielpi and his team stepped up to provide this critical service when no one else did.  They have done a remarkable job.  The Tribute Center they created has received approximately 715,000 visitors to date.  It exists in temporary leased space, but it deserves to become permanent in order to continue to enhance the education for site visitors.  The entrance building of the museum would be the logical place and would avoid redundancy and waste in resources. At the very least, a discussion between the Tribute Center and the Memorial Museum should take place, and take place now so that the entrance building’s layout and size could still be adjusted to accommodate the Center.  In the past we have questioned the need for a separate entrance building at all.  The Museum’s entrance could be created through the oversized Calatrava building.  However, if we are going to have an additional building, it should be as meaningful as possible.  We cannot imagine anything more meaningful than the Tribute Center.

17.  CREATE A MECHANISM TO STRENGTHEN CONSTRUCTION SITE SAFETY AND LOWER MANHATTAN’S LIVABILITY. Situations will undoubtedly increase as work at or above ground level accelerates and authorities charged with the work seek variances, or the equivalent, to meet or exceed schedules.  We cannot sacrifice the health, well-being or livability of area workers or residents to get the work done.  That would fly in the face of the value of upholding the importance and sanctity of every human being, which the site and downtown’s rebirth are supposed to reflect.  Next month, this office will release a follow-up report and series of recommendations to improve construction site safety and construction area livability for Lower Manhattan and the city at large.  We call on all levels and leaders of government to work together to achieve the goal of reconstruction within the timeframe, but not at the expense of safety and livability.

Related Stories