Bloomberg Arranges Meeting to Address Conflict Between WTC Developer, Port Authority

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is considering downsizing the World Trade Center redevelopment, but project developer Silverstein Properties wants to stick to the plan–and so does New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is orchestrating a meeting between the two parties at Gracie Mansion this week in an attempt to keep the multi-billion project on track. According to an article by the New York Daily News, the Port Authority has proposed downsizing the number of planned skyscrapers at Ground Zero from five to two, ultimately leaving the site with just 5 million square feet of office space instead of 10 million. The impetus behind the Port Authority proposal is the same force that is cutting many a development project down to size across the country. “Our greatest challenge going forward will be responding to the effects of an economic recession, which has depressed the City’s real estate market and tightened the nation’s credit market,” Chris Ward, Port Authority executive director, noted in a first quarter report on the World Trade Center redevelopment effort. “Just as we have gotten the public construction on track, we have seen that, like everything else, the rebuilding effort is not immune to the economic crisis. Working cooperatively with Silverstein Properties, we hope to rationalize their private development to meet the market, while continuing to advance the public projects and infrastructure.” So much for rationalizing. Talks regarding a potential renegotiation of the agreement between Silverstein and the Port Authority have apparently hit a brick wall. “We remain committed to the plan all the stakeholders agreed to in 2004, and reaffirmed in 2006–a stirring memorial, a rebuilt transportation network, and replacement of the shops and soaring office towers destroyed eight years ago,” Janno Lieber, president of Silverstein affiliate World Trade Center Properties, said in a prepared statement. “The Port Authority agreed to that plan, and has received more than $2 billion out of the rebuilding fund based on their promise to cooperate in executing that exact vision. Now, with 10,000 construction workers standing ready to get to work, there is absolutely no reason for turning our backs on the promises.”Silverstein has major support in its bid to continue with development as planned. “A downturn in the national economy may increase the temptation to think in the short-term and curtail development plans, especially for major long-term projects,” Bloomberg noted in a statement issued last week. “But this is precisely the time we need to reaffirm our commitments to the future of our City, and no development is more important than the World Trade Center site.” New York Gov. David Paterson issued a statement citing the importance of moving forward with the rebuilding of lower Manhattan, despite economic challenges. And Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was the first to speak out on the impasse, crying out for a meeting on the matter; Bloomberg responded. The mayor has extended invitations to the meeting to Silver, Paterson and New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine. The Bloomberg-hosted meeting will mark the second occasion the mayor has brought the Silverstein and the Port Authority together to hash out issues over the progress of the WTC project. That last gathering was in 2006, and concluded successfully. What will happen this time around is anyone’s guess, but from Bloomberg’s perspective, there is only one way to go and that is forward. “Any stalemate would severely jeopardize the progress we’ve made revitalizing all of Lower Manhattan and is not an acceptable option.”