Downtown Receives Dose of Realism

Event: Progress Report on the Redevelopment of Lower Manhattan
Location: Marriott World Financial Center, 09.06.07
Speakers: Avi Schick — Chairman, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; Robert Douglass — Chairman, Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association (introduction)
Organizers: Lower Manhattan Development Corporation

Lower Manhattan

Avi Schick addressed some issues of progress in Lower Manhattan and skirted others.

Jessica Sheridan

With signs of progress (or at least of Freedom Tower construction) finally in sight, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) chairman Avi Schick spoke with optimism, respect, and responsibility in his recent progress report on the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan. He spotlighted silver linings and tried to keep the most recent setback, the August 18 Deutsche Bank fire, in appropriate perspective.

Ground Zero still is promising more than it is achieving, and the cultural and recreational components lag behind the more profit-driven elements. But the 9/11 memorial, East River Esplanade, and a soon-to-be-announced $45 million LMDC grant for “community enhancement” should begin redressing that balance in 2008 and 2009.

In June JPMorganChase said it would build its new investment-banking headquarters at the Deutsche Bank site; Schick anticipates 7,000 new jobs from the project. He also cited new hotels and a 20% increase in local apartment inventory. Making Lower Manhattan livable on a 24-7 basis depends on public-sector initiatives as well as the business community.

As with many political addresses, things left unsaid made as much difference as things covered. Schick paid homage to firefighters Joseph Graffagnino and Robert Beddia killed in the Deutsche Bank fire, and pledged that LMDC would “ensure that the conditions that led to the blaze, that exacerbated it, and that contributed to the difficulty in fighting it are completely eradicated.” Schick pledged, “We will bring that wretched building down.” Accountability for those conditions, however, remained between the lines; John Galt Corporation and Bovis Lend Lease never came up. Recent revelations about air quality around the World Trade Center site, too, were ignored. However, outside engineering review will align construction timetables with technical considerations, not political ones.

Perhaps the most encouraging inference one can draw involves LMDC’s reluctance to offer false encouragement. When asked for the best estimate of when Deutsche Bank would be gone, Schick declined to specify a date, claiming that the demolition would proceed “sequentially and slowly and carefully.” A question about the transit center received the same treatment. A more headline-minded spokesman might have nailed down a deadline or two for the sake of drama, feasible or not, but Schick has apparently been around Ground Zero long enough to know better.