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Edward
January 7th, 2002, 12:46 PM
From New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com)

January 7, 2002


Cleanup's Pace Outstrips Plans for Attack Site

By ERIC LIPTON

The gargantuan cleanup is set to be finished by June. The caved-in subway line is slated to be rebuilt and running again by November. The first new office tower could start rising as early as the end of the year. And the PATH commuter line from New Jersey, for which hundreds of millions of dollars have already been made available, is scheduled to be back in service by the end of 2003.

It is a pace of progress at the World Trade Center (http://www.wirednewyork.com/wtc.htm) site that was unthinkable right after Sept. 11, and that has surprised everyone from city and state officials to real estate developers to victims' families.

But the stunningly rapid work also means that questions about what comes next may no longer be a comfortably distant debate: officials acknowledge in interviews that a 16- acre hole will occupy the site by summer's start, and they admit such a scene debris gone, a sense of promise palpable could well create pressure to have answers about downtown's future faster than anyone ever expected.

"We don't want that hole to be sitting there with nothing going on. That would be the worst thing," said John C. Whitehead, the chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, a joint state and city panel formed in late November to coordinate downtown's rebuilding. "So we are going to try to have plans lined up as quickly as possible to permit construction to begin as soon as possible."

The emerging recognition of an accelerated timetable for rethinking and rebuilding downtown is having a ripple effect, officials said last week. Public hearings on the best use of the site could begin within about six weeks; a temporary memorial park, created in part to reassure victims' families that some significant memorial will be built, is expected to be in place by year's end; and certain important participants are pushing to have the rough outlines of an overall redevelopment plan that includes offices, cultural institutions and residential buildings settled upon within three months or so.

"The faster things happen, the more positive it is for downtown," said David Shulman, a real estate analyst at Lehman Brothers.

"Time is the great enemy of that whole area," he said. "If things go slowly, if there's a lot of foot-dragging, you'll lose downtown as a real financial center."

Actual construction on the biggest parts of a remade downtown could be three to five years off, most of the principals involved in the process agree. And there is no way to forecast precisely how litigation, insurance payments, environmental concerns, the economy or debate about the formal memorial might affect redevelopment.

Cities across the United States, including New York, have learned in recent decades that redevelopment plans typically take longer than expected to devise, and then years more than called for to build.

The redevelopment agency's board has met just once, with a second meeting set for today. It still has no staff or office of its own, not even an executive director. And even those close to Mr. Whitehead concede he knows little about the construction industry and is still being introduced to many of the important city government and civic leaders.

Gov. George E. Pataki, who appointed 7 of the 11 members to the development group, said through a spokesman last week that he had found the pace of the cleanup to be inspirational, but urged the public to be patient as plans for the rebirth of Lower Manhattan were devised.

"We need to let the process move forward naturally so we have the broadest consensus, not rush it," said Michael McKeon, a spokesman for Mr. Pataki.

And a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg said that the mayor's visit to the site on Jan. 1 and the meetings he and his staff had held in his first week with Mr. Whitehead and others illustrated the high priority the administration would place on the rebuilding effort.

What no one disputes is the striking pace of progress at ground zero, as the removal of burned-out shells of buildings and twisted piles of steel and concrete has progressed so quickly that the landscape changes weekly. A job that some believed might take two years is now set to be complete within nine months.

Already, 962,725 tons of debris and steel have been carried from the site. As a result, almost nothing remains above ground across an area where the twin towers and five other World Trade Center buildings once stood. Most of the remaining work involves digging out debris that was compressed into the basement levels.

"There were piles of compacted, twisted steel eight stories high into the air at first," said Capt. Raymond Reilly, a Fire Department official who has worked at the site since Sept. 11. "It was just overwhelming. You wondered, `Where do you start?' Now it is a gaping hole four levels down into the ground. I just can't understand how they did it that quickly."

The Development Corporation, after hiring an executive director and naming committees from various constituencies real-estate executives, downtown residents, bankers and victims' families will hold public hearings to consider the various ideas. Then a conceptual plan will be drawn up, hopefully within three months, Mr. Whitehead said a timetable that even in theory reflects a stark departure from the early thinking after the disaster.

By the end of this year, an interim memorial park, perhaps with trees, benches and flowers, would be built.

If there is sufficient market demand, the most frequently mentioned plan is to set aside at least four acres for a permanent memorial and then build an undetermined number of buildings each 50 or 60 stories tall, perhaps including a mix of office and retail space, apartments and a performing arts or cultural complex of some sorts.

Officials say that once the debris is gone it will still be at least two years before structural steel can start to go up for new buildings within the core of the site, because new subway tunnels, a new subway station and a PATH commuter rail station have to be built underground.

But they say there is still an urgent need to move ahead with planning, for the ultimate design of the new World Trade Center area how many people will work or live there and where they will be concentrated will heavily influence the rebuilding of the transit system, roadways and utilities.

Mr. Whitehead said he realized there would be pressure to move quickly, especially in light of the quick cleanup. The board has decided to meet every other week instead of once a month, as originally planned. "It is a combination of a desire for speed and a desire for quality," Mr. Whitehead said. "Things have to be built fast enough to change the psychology of this area, but not so fast as to not make it a great result in the end."

The first building to rise, various officials say, will most likely be a replacement for 7 World Trade Center (http://www.wirednewyork.com/7wtc.htm), the 47-story former home to Salomon Smith Barney, as well as the mayor's emergency command center. The building, while considered part of the World Trade Center complex, was built separately and set off from the rest of the area, at its northern edge.

Larry Silverstein, the developer who built 7 World Trade Center and who in July had signed a $3.2 billion lease on the twin towers, said he hoped to start work on a replacement for 7 World Trade Center by the end of 2002, first by building a new underground substation for Consolidated Edison and then constructing a new 50-story office tower.

"It will be such a shot in the arm for all of Manhattan and the city at large to see new construction take place in Lower Manhattan," he said last week, adding that he had already chosen a lead architect, David M. Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, who designed the new AOL Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle.

Yet despite Mr. Silverstein's enthusiasm, some government officials said he would have a hard time meeting his end-of-the-year goal, because building plans need to be approved by the Port Authority and decisions about transit and utility systems may take longer than he expects.

Given how intertwined each aspect of the redevelopment plan will be, there will also be pressure to move quickly to decide on the location and size of the permanent memorial to those killed on Sept. 11. Nikki Stern of Princeton, N.J., whose husband, James E. Potorti, was killed in the attack, said that the work to clear the site had progressed so quickly that families who want their voices heard in the debate over the memorial's size and location must organize now.

"What do you do when on the one hand you have the economic necessity of moving Lower Manhattan forward and on the other a group of victim families that say, `You may not build on my loved one's head'?" said Mrs. Stern. "It will never be resolved. But it must be addressed, and the sooner it is addressed the better it is for all concerned."

One immediate benefit of the rapid pace of the work at the World Trade Center site is that the size of the restricted area has shrunk week by week, so much that now Church Street, which is on the eastern edge of the impact zone, was recently opened again to limited traffic. Con Edison reports that all its Lower Manhattan customers have had power restored, while Verizon puts the number at 99 percent. All this has meant that however haltingly, life is starting to return to the immediate neighborhood, though it still has a long way to go.

One Liberty Plaza (http://www.wirednewyork.com/1_liberty_plaza.htm), the adjacent 54-story office tower that had been falsely rumored to be at risk of collapse, reopened in late October. All but one of the 25 residential buildings at Battery Park City have reopened, the exception being 600 Gateway Plaza, which had many of its windows blown out when the towers collapsed.

And tenants, at least those who are returning, are gradually moving back into the World Financial Center (http://www.wirednewyork.com/wfc.htm), just west of the site. Six thousand Merrill Lynch employees have been back since December. American Express intends to start its return to its headquarters at 3 World Financial Center (http://www.wirednewyork.com/3wfc.htm) in April. Even Century 21, the department store across Church Street from the World Trade Center, is preparing to reopen soon.

Despite this progress, normalcy is still far off. The local multiplex and many restaurants remain closed. Battery Park City is still isolated. And memories of Sept. 11 are still fresh. But Mr. Whitehead said he understood how urgent it was to show the public that there was at least a real plan coming into place.

"There is still an outflow of people and companies and we have to reverse that," he said.

Nick
January 10th, 2002, 08:42 PM
Hmm... *This is the opportunity of the century to do something here. *A tragic event has happened, thousands have lost their lives and two icons are gone. *I know -- let us build some 50 story buildings! *We should rush this, and just get something there. *Maybe something that doesn't stick out or anything, nothing that would ever differ from the status quo. *We must suspend all vision! *This is New York! *It is all about dollars and cents.

Yes - I was being sarcastic. *There was a time in life when horrible things happened, and instead of fixating on the dead, the city moved on and became greater. * What happened to this city?