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Lower Manhattan has become accustomed to waiting. As far as the “Freedom Tower,” or One W.T.C., we waited for an appropriate design and an appropriate name. As for the National September 11 Memorial, we waited for the 10-year anniversary and an unveiling that would satisfy family members and the world.
Now Lower Manhattan is awaiting yet another centerpiece of the World Trade Center site to take shape: the Performing Arts Center.
This week there was good news regarding this piece of the puzzle. Maggie Boepple was named senior adviser to the PAC board of directors by the National September 11 Memorial Foundation.
We would like to welcome Boepple. She has the right background and expertise to take on this project forthrightly, and quickly. But the job she has been tasked with is not an easy one. All of New York City, and most important, all of Lower Manhattan, will now be looking to her to move this project forward.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has described the PAC as a “reward” to the Lower Manhattan residents and business owners that chose to remain, to rebuild and to not abandon a neighborhood when it would have been easy, and understandable, to do so. The PAC is a crucial component in the neighborhood’s revitalization. It has the capacity to serve as an example of dedication and resilience — and beauty and art — in the face of adversity.
That being said, we are concerned.
To date the vision behind the PAC, and its failure to materialize as a tangible reality, has led to a “PAC fatigue” that has defined the project. Three out of the four original tenants have been booted from the project or jumped ship, and sources within the National September 11 Foundation have acknowledged that the Joyce Theater cannot carry the brunt of the center’s programming.
Some voices are calling for the project to be abandoned, saying it will never have the capacity to support itself, and is unnecessary.
It must be noted that the original, grandiose plans concerning the PAC have fallen victim to economic woes unforeseen when the project first took shape. The federal monies allocated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which enabled the PAC’s existence under the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, looked ample in the beginning of the voyage, but are tight, if not exhausted, at this point. A total of $155 million was committed by the L.M.D.C. but there is several times that number to be raised.
As Boepple takes on this project, we ask her, and the PAC board, to put all options on the table. There are enormous fundraising, programming and timeline challenges. Maybe raising an additional $300 million is not necessary. Maybe interweaving avant-garde programming with community-based arts is an avenue worth exploring.
Boepple is well qualified to try to make sense of these challenges. We hope she weighs all options, speaks to as many community stakeholders as possible and advises the current and future PAC board members to keep an open mind. By doing that, this arts center could become an institution that truly reflects the Lower Manhattan of today.