Will gridlock mark reconstruction?
As the one-year anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks is marked, some industry observers are wondering how the city is going to turn the thousands of opinions from residents, officials and others into a single plan to rebuild the site.
"There are way too many cooks in the kitchen for this project," said Insignia/ESG executive director Steve Berliner, who oversees the company's Downtown office. "For Downtown to rebound, we really need to have a plan in place."
To be sure, there are many complex questions that need to be answered before rebuilding can begin, such as how much office and retail space should be constructed and what type of memorial the plan should include. But the opinions on these subjects are as diverse as the people who were affected by the tragic events of Sept. 11, leaving some to wonder whether one plan will ever satisfy the myriad concerns surrounding the project.
"Not every problem is going to be solved," said Peter Sabesan, principal of Hunter Realty Organization LLC. "I thought the city did a great job up until now. The only way we're going to rebound from this devastation is to start rebuilding. Right now, nothing's happening."
Bruce Mosler, president of U.S. operations for Cushman & Wakefield who serves on one of the LMDC's advisory councils, said one entity - whether it's the city, state or another one - must take ownership of the project if it is to be successful.
"It is difficult to make joint decisions unless you empower the city or state," Mosler said.
Regardless of which group oversees it, rebuilding will not begin for at least the next few months. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation decided to open the planning process to architects and planners worldwide.
The LMDC released a request for qualifications Aug. 19, which is open to licensed architects and professional planners and landscape architects. The LMDC will work with New York New Visions, a coalition of 21 architecture, engineering, planning landscape architecture and design organizations, to narrow the list of potentially thousands of candidates to between 10 and 20. The deadline for responses to the RFQ is Sept. 16 and up to five teams will be selected Sept. 30. The design study concludes in mid-November and by the end of November, all teams must submit final content and presentation materials, including hard-line drawings, free-hand sketches, renderings, computer generated images and site models.
"This effort to reach out to the finest architects and planners around the globe significantly expands the search for the best design talent," said LMDC chairman John Whitehead. "The goal of everyone working on the rebuilding program is to create a truly beautiful and vibrant new Lower Manhattan while appropriately honoring the victims of Sept. 11."
The decision to widen the scope of the rebuilding efforts came just weeks after six preliminary proposals for the World Trade Center site were universally panned by the public and critics alike. The plans called for replacing all the square footage of office space that was lost during the attacks as well as building retail space, a memorial and housing.
Even New York University is venturing into the rebuilding realm by offering a course called "Creative Cities: The Ground Zero Lab." It is being offered through NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies and Creative Cities and invites architects, engineers, lawyers and others to consider urban regeneration across the globe as a model for Lower Manhattan. The course, which will run from Sept. 17 through Dec. 10 will culminate in the creation of digital models for an ideal redevelopment plan. Alexandros Washburn, the former president of the Penn Station Redevelopment Corporation, will moderate the course.
"The Ground Zero Lab gives New Yorkers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to incorporate the Creative Cities perspective into the most important redevelopment plan in our city's history," said Linda Lees, director of the SCPS humanities program.
Recently, the LMDC decided to expand the rebuilding effort to include all of Downtown, from Chinatown to Battery Park. The LMDC hired the firm Peterson Littenberg Architects & Planners for the expanded effort and are working on creating an Empire Zone economic development district that would include much of Chinatown and parts of the Lower East Side. Under the program, sales and property tax benefits are offered to encourage businesses and new development.
Rebuilding officials said other firms would be sought through public requests for bidders by the LMDC or New York City.
Since the six initial designs were released in July, the LMDC and Port Authority have received 5,000 suggestions via email through the RenewNYC.com website, comments from over 5,000 participants at the "Listening to the City" town hall forums, comments from thousands of visitors to the exhibit of the plans at Federal Hall and additional input from LMDC's eight advisory councils.
"At 'Listening to the City' and other public forums throughout the last several months, we vowed to incorporate public input into the planning process," said Port Authority executive director Louis Tomson. "The invaluable public input we received is helping to shape the future of Downtown."
Sabesan said the office buildings should drive the design process, not the memorial as some have suggested. He added that he wasn't sure many SF of office space should be constructed, but pointed out that the towers were more than 95% occupied when they came down.
"The memorial should not drive the design, the office space should," Sabesan said. "The city has a one-time opportunity to get this right."
Mosler said the city should conduct a formal study to determine projections for the amount of office space the city will need in future years. "It will likely be 2007 or 2008 before any product goes up," he said. "We have to look at a fairly long horizon."
One idea that was broached by the Bloomberg administration during discussions of the rebuilding process involves a proposed land swap that could give the city control of the vacant 16-acre trade center site. Under the proposal, the city would swap the land at the site with the land at the city's two airports. When it was first introduced, the idea was met with positive feedback from many involved in the rebuilding process. However, it remains to be seen whether a deal involving a land swap could be reached.
"It would simplify the process and get the state of New Jersey and the Port Authority out of the picture," Berliner said. "In my opinion, their only interest is financial."
With the land swap getting further consideration, Larry Silverstein's continued role in the project is being questioned. Some believe that the designs released in July were severely restricted by the provisions contained in the lease struck between Silverstein and the Port Authority, which requires Silverstein to rebuild all the space that was lost. Some have suggested that the city should reach a settlement with Silverstein whereby he is allowed to keep a portion of the insurance proceeds but is not involved in the redevelopment efforts.