Volume 76, Number 12 | August 9 - 15, 2006


L.M.D.C.’s record of achievements and blemishes

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s announcement that it will be closing up shop in a few months gives us reason to reflect on its record.

Even though there is now some World Trade Center construction activity, the site still looks like a hole in the ground and will for some time. It’s easy to blame the L.M.D.C. for this, but as we have said in the past, the chief culprits are Governor George Pataki, who controlled the strings at most of the agencies and institutions involved in Downtown’s rebuilding; the Port Authority, which procrastinated building the W.T.C. eastern “bathtub;” and Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who mostly sat on his hands on W. T. C. issues in his first term.

The corporation however, must take considerable blame because the damaged Deutsche Bank building still haunts the site. It bought the albatross building two years ago and has not yet come up with an approved plan to take the contaminated structure down.

The L.M.D.C. also has much reason to be proud, though. When many of our neighbors were choosing to move away, the agency’s $300-million rent subsidy program helped stabilize our Lower Manhattan neighborhoods and attracted many new young residents Downtown. Fortunately, a good number of these newcomers were able to afford to stay when the two-year incentives ran out, and Lower Manhattan continues to be the city’s fastest growing area. The agency’s push to improve both the East and Hudson River waterfronts will have long-lasting effects.

There were times the L.M.D.C. was justifiably criticized for not consulting with the public, but, over all, its record exceeds most public authorities and agencies. We can’t imagine the Port Authority or anyone else being willing to go to meeting after meeting as the L.M.D.C. did, only to be pummeled by one competing stakeholder or another. The L.M.D.C. popularized an outstanding public forum system — large presentations, followed by small group discussions that are documented. The format worked well and should be duplicated for future projects.

Developing the site’s master plan and picking a memorial were enormously complicated endeavors and it was more difficult for the L.M.D.C. because it did not have jurisdiction over the site. Pataki made it harder by undermining the corporation at a few key moments — overruling the L.M.D.C.’s site selection committee by going with Daniel Libeskind’s plan over the Think team’s Towers of Culture; and, most egregiously, caving to family members by removing a cultural building and two museums from the plan.

The L.M.D.C. has made mistakes along the way. But considering all the competing groups and agencies involved and the unprecedented task before it, Downtown is probably a better place because of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

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