Volume 79, Number 7 | July 22 - 28, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Some signs of hope at the Trade Center
There is not a lot of good news about the World Trade Center site lately and, for that matter, there hasnt been all that much for eight years. The stalled talks between the Port Authority and developer Larry Silverstein are the current source of most of the angst, but things might be ready to begin turning for the better. Although the two sides are not talking much and remain far apart, the Port Authority recently took an important step by offering some financial backing to Silverstein to help him build Tower 2, which is at the crux of the dispute.
Until now, the two sides have been talking past each other. The authority had not been willing to help Silverstein build the tower, and Silverstein, as well as the city, has not given much thought to the authoritys alternative rebuilding plans because both remain convinced the alternatives wont work financially or logistically. The Port Authoritys latest offer could finally move the negotiations to a point where people are talking about the same thing. If the debate becomes only about dollars, it becomes easier to resolve because neither side is trying to force a plan on the other.
Of course easier doesnt mean easy. Both sides said they are willing to return to the mediation talks, but have not done so. Led by Mayor Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, these talks offer the best hope of getting out of this mess and limiting the number of disagreements in the future. There is no reason why the talks cant continue while the expected arbitration proceedings begin this week. The arbitration, which is to determine whether the authority has violated the current agreement, will take several months as the two sides argue about the past. They also can be talking about the future with the mediators, and both sides should return to the table immediately.
The Port Authority has now offered to guarantee $1.2 billion in financing for Tower 2 if Silverstein can secure $625 million. In todays credit market that does not seem possible, but Silverstein can likely put more money in, and he can definitely sweeten the deal and offer more equity in the towers on the back end. He has already gotten most of his money back on his W.T.C. investment, so the Port Authority, which is a public authority, would be entitled to the big payday down the road if it stepped in and took the risk when no one else could. It seems like a deal can be had if both sides can seize the fact that this project cannot be locked in the normal real-estate cost-benefit strictures, but recognize that they have an opportunity to rebuild an iconic site that will make New Yorkers and Americans proud. Both parties need to think more boldly. This project will not fail, and its time to invest serious resources.
A possible breakthrough in the money talks is not the only hopeful sign at the W.T.C. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation is looking into jump-starting the long-ago-proposed, and long-forgotten, Performing Arts Center by moving it to the Tower 5 site. At the current proposed location, the PAC is so far away from construction that no one in power is likely to think about it again for at least five years, if ever.
An arts center will add some hope to a site of such tragedy. Its not a bad time to dwell on the signs of hope at the World Trade Center.