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Silverstein finds support in spite of PA's publicity war.

Although Governor Pataki's camp and the Port Authority are painting Larry Silverstein as the villain in the World Trade Center negotiations fiasco, not everyone is buying into their version of events.

According to the Regional Plan Association, for example, the fact that the Freedom Tower would become a problem was evident all along and should have been addressed some time ago.

"We've been saying for a few years that [the World Trade Center] leases need to be renegotiated and it has become clear that for this development to move ahead you have to re-phase it," said Jeremy Soffin, PLA spokesman.

"The Freedom Tower isn't ready to go ahead now and the more attractive parcels should probably start things off. They really should have started these negotiations a long time ago and an acknowledgement of the issues with the Freedom Tower would have helped."

ABO's Nick LaPorte believes that Silverstein is getting the raw side of the deal.

"This is a guy who bought the lease from them and he has the right to do with that property as he wishes," LaPorte said. "He built 7 WTC with no problems. PA's reticence to allow him to do what he was assigned to do just makes no sense."

According to Kent Swig, president of Swig Burris Equities, LLC, the person who is truly to blame for the negotiations breakdown is Governor Pataki, who is more concerned about leaving a legacy than he is about creating a viable construction schedule for lower Manhattan.

"Governor Pataki took all of his legacy and put it into a tall phallic symbol that will be outbuilt by the Chinese before it ever gets built anyway," Swig said of the Freedom Tower during his speech before the ABO on March 16.

In Swig's view, it would have been wiser on Pataki's part to concentrate on all of the transportation projects currently underway in the City and leave the Freedom Tower alone.

"I am sure there were tough decisions to be made, but his legacy is this city's development. We have four of the most incredible transportation projects going on in the US--I would have said 'This is my legacy' and called it a victory. Governor Pataki ... would have been the hero."

Moreover, Swig pointed out that Silverstein has full rights to the World Trade Center site and is not legally obligated to cater to the Port Authority's demands.

"As complex as it is, it's not that complex--Larry Silverstein has got a lease and has been paying it. I am a person who would be a little frightened to be in an environment that says 'things have happened, so we have to renegotiate,'" he said.

"Whether Larry Silverstein is a good guy or not a good guy, whether he did everything right or wrong, we have a land owner and we have a deal. The deal was, one, you want the rent to be paid and, two, at the end of the lease, you want back what you leased and you want to make sure he's building these buildings and in 99 years [the agency] gets them back. The Port Authority shouldn't ask for anything more."

Former New York State senator Manfred Ohrenstein is more generous toward Governor Pataki, believing he is trying to do the best he can in a difficult situation, but he too feels that it is unfair to blame Silverstein for protecting his interests.

"You have a businessman who is a victim of the 9/ 11 attacks in much the same way as many other victims," Ohrenstein said. "This is not to compare it to people who have lost their lives, but nevertheless he is a victim who has the right for his losses to be made whole and the right to be part of the rebirth of downtown in which he so heavily invested."

The people in the downtown community feel about the same way. In what would probably be surprising news for the Mayor and the Governor, they don't care if Silverstein retains full control of the site as long as the World Trade Center complex finally starts construction.

"We are not happy with the pace of reconstruction, needless to say, but we don't have a strong opinion on [who should do it]" said Paul Goldstein, district manager with downtown Community Board #1. "We are concerned that the Silverstein organization needs to have the financial wherewithal, but it's hard for us to do an independent assessment. We did take a position on the Liberty Bonds issue--we recommended that Silverstein get the money for the first couple of buildings, and if he proves that he can build them, he can get the rest."

"If they [Silverstein Properties] could do that, we would be fine with them building it out, but we don't want to commit the money and have a hole in the ground for years to come."
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Title Annotation:Larry Silverstein; Port Authority
Author:Misonzhnik, Elaine
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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