Silver hints W.T.C. consensus is to build more towers
By Julie Shapiro
June 5 - 11, 2009
The negotiations about the future of the World Trade Center site have been going on behind closed doors, but on Friday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver gave the first hint of what is happening.
The consensus among the stakeholders appears to be shifting toward developer Silverstein Properties’ goal of building as many office towers as possible with the Port Authority’s help, Silver said.
“That’s the purpose,” Silver said in an interview with Downtown Express. “Build more, and build more now. That is our purpose.”
Silverstein cannot build his Church St. office towers on his own because he cannot get construction financing. The Port has agreed to help with Tower 4 but refused to backstop the financing for Tower 2, saying Silverstein can build it when the economy improves and the Port should not be expected to take the risk of financing offices on spec for a private developer. In place of Tower 2 and the neighboring Tower 3, the Port wants to build temporary six-story retail podiums.
But Silver said Friday that now is the time to build the office towers, allying himself very closely with Silverstein’s position. Silver added that Gov. Jon Corzine and Gov. David Paterson are both being “cooperative” in the goal of building more towers now, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has previously expressed support for building despite the economic downturn.
That is not to say that the stakeholders have sided entirely with Silverstein against the Port Authority. Silver and Bloomberg have called on Silverstein to devote more money to the project, and on Friday Silver said an agreement would require all the parties to make further investments.
“They’re trying to work through a conclusion that has everybody put in a little more: the Port Authority, the city, the state, and most important, Larry Silverstein,” Silver said. “And I hope to get there.”
The closed-door meetings began after an impasse between Silverstein and the Port Authority over the tower financing and delivery of key site infrastructure threatened to halt progress at the site. Alarmed by that prospect, Silver called all the site stakeholders together, and they held their first meeting May 21 at Gracie Mansion, at Bloomberg’s invitation. The meeting included Bloomberg, Silver, both governors, Larry Silverstein and Port Authority executive director Chris Ward.
Since then, Silver said there have been three major meetings with top stakeholders including Larry Silverstein. Those three meetings were held quietly and out of the public eye, often at odd times of the day, Silver said. In addition, Deputy Mayor Bob Lieber has been chairing daily meetings of lower-level staff representing all the parties, a source familiar with the discussions said.
The next publicly announced meeting of the principals will be Thurs., June 11, and the stakeholders have said they hope to have at least the broad outlines of an agreement by then.
“We’re not there yet,” Silver said Friday. “It’s a matter of money, it’s a matter of commitment, it’s a matter of saving money, it’s a matter of refocusing so we can get a result.”
Bloomberg’s office and Silverstein Properties declined to comment. Steve Coleman, Port spokesperson, said only, “Our position on the Port Authority putting in any more money or risk has not changed.”
All the parties involved have been reluctant to talk after Bloomberg made it clear he wanted the negotiations to be entirely private.
“We’re all sworn to secrecy,” Silver told Downtown Express, explaining why he could not go into more detail.
But Silver did repeat his position that now is the time to build Towers 2 and 4, even though the economy is down.
“We’ll be in a different business cycle by 2014 or 2015,” Silver said. “And there are some people who think, there is no other development going on in the city, no other office space. If you look at all the studies, everybody will tell you there’s going to be a need for expanded commercial space in New York City.”
Silver listed the other office projects that are falling through, from Hudson Yards to Atlantic Yards, which will make the World Trade Center towers all the more important.
“New York, Downtown Manhattan, ground zero is going to be the place to go,” Silver said.
Silver said the rebuilt World Trade Center could follow the example of the original Twin Towers, which initially filled with government offices because there was little demand for commercial space.
Silver’s first district office was in room 5489 of 2 W.T.C., he recalled, and later he was moved down to the 26th floor as the real estate grew more valuable. Finally, he was moved out of the building altogether.
“Hopefully there will be a market for it,” Silver said of the new office towers at the site, “and we can prepare for it.”