Volume 77 / Number 46 - April 16 - 22, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


W.T.C. arts center remains right move

When New Yorkers started to think about what should replace the World Trade Center after the horrific attacks, there was almost universal support for a memorial to honor the 3,000 lives lost. Probably the second most popular idea voiced by the thousands who spoke during the public process was for a cultural center. Then-Governor George Pataki often paid lip service to this idea, as did Mayor Mike Bloomberg. They all thought, correctly, that part of the response to incomprehensible evil should be beauty and art. Seven years later, the idea remains an afterthought with not much prospect of being even partially realized.

Under Bloomberg’s leadership of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, a private foundation, the memorial and museum reached its $350 million fundraising goal last week. The foundation was also going to raise money for the cultural center, but it never had much interest in doing that. When Dan Doctoroff, who was Bloomberg’s top Lower Manhattan adviser, spoke of the city taking the lead in W.T.C. arts planning — two years ago — the foundation was eager to step aside.

Little has happened since then. The only consistent “progress” on the idea over the years has been to make it smaller and put it aside for other projects.

The cultural “center” has been reduced to a possibility of one arts group, Joyce Theater, in one theoretical building where construction has the potential to begin in a few years if anyone ever decides to begin raising money. Signature Theater was thrown off the W.T.C. site last year for cost reasons. Other groups previously were bounced because of Pataki’s decree that no Ground Zero artwork could ever offend anyone.

The Port Authority is now using the supposed W.T.C. Performing Arts Center site to continue building a much-needed train center. The station should be a higher priority than the PAC, but the decision to put off one for the other will drive up the costs and, with the continuing competition for W.T.C. space, could reduce the size of the arts center further, if it ever gets built. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s recent trial balloon of moving the PAC to the shaky Fulton Transit Center project only underscores how much uncertainty there is with both projects.

One of the excuses given to delay the arts center fundraising was it would compete with memorial fundraising. That flimsy excuse — there were and are plenty of art donors who were unlikely to ever give to the memorial — thankfully became obsolete with last week’s welcome announcement about the memorial’s accomplishment.

Now the excuse we hear is that it is not feasible to start a fundraising campaign because there is no definite site, design, cost estimate or arts group yet. That’s all true, but it only goes to show how nothing really has been accomplished on the W.T.C. arts center. If a philanthropist stepped forward now and promised a check for $50 million in exchange for a binding commitment to build a large arts building at the W.T.C., would anyone in power be willing to deposit it if it meant paying penalties for another broken promise?

The wisdom of a W.T.C. arts center hasn’t changed. Only the will to build it has.

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