The Long Process to Rebuild Lower Manhattan


 

The following piece by Mitchell Moss, executive director at the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, appeared on the Russel Sage Foundation website.

The rebuilding of the World Trade Center site has been delayed by intense and noisy debates over the financing of the commercial development, the need to substantially modify an initially unrealistic site plan, as well as the cost of the extravagant PATH station. Key decisions by the Port Authority made at the outset of the process led to a highly centralized and flawed plan, which required massive expenditures for underground infrastructure and a new office tower—One World Trade Center—to be placed on the northwest corner of the site, a highly vulnerable location.

 

MOVING FORWARD ON THE 9/11 MEMORIAL

The comparatively rapid progress on the September 11 Memorial and Museum has been largely due to the central role played by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who chairs the foundation responsible for financing and operating the facility. Bloomberg insisted that the memorial be open to the public by the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack. (The Museum is expected to open in 2012.) The memorial occupies approximately half of the WTC site and displays the names of all the victims of the 9/11 attack, as well as those killed in the 1993 bombing. The site, which also includes 400 oak trees, will eventually be one of the city’s great gathering places, serving all New Yorkers as well as the families of the victims. It is designed to fit into the fabric of lower Manhattan as well as to be a place that honors those who died on 9/11. Paying for the operating costs of the Memorial and Museum has yet to be resolved, but efforts are underway for the federal government to absorb some portion of the costs.

While the Port Authority and the Silverstein Properties, the developer with the legal right to rebuild on the WTC site, engaged in a series of legal battles, New York City took a proactive approach to the renewal of the surrounding area under its control. In December 2002, Bloomberg announced that lower Manhattan would be redeveloped as a “24-hour, 7-day” community, with new housing, parks and schools, as well as improved transportation infrastructure. The mayor recognized that financial services had been emigrating from lower Manhattan for more than 25 years and that the future of this area would depend on a mix of uses.

 

LOWER MANHATTAN SURGES

This strategy has produced remarkable results. The population of lower Manhattan has doubled, and a surge of new public and private schools, as well as new parks and open space has appeared through the once bleak financial district. Federal and state incentives were especially effective in attracting a new upper income residential population. It is no accident that the city’s tallest residential building, 8 Spruce Street, was built just east of City Hall, with the benefit of low-cost financing provided by Liberty Bonds made available by the federal government in response to the September 11 attack.

Today, the center of the financial services industry in lower Manhattan has moved to the corner of West Street and Vesey Streets, where Goldman Sachs occupies a new, highly subsidized headquarters building in Battery Park City and opposite the headquarters of American Express. Wall Street today is largely residential on the south side of the street, and the only major financial institutions with headquarters on Wall Street today are Bank of NY Mellon and Deutsche Bank. The New York Stock Exchange continues to occupy the corner of Wall and Broad Street, but the actual floor of the exchange is largely filled with television cameras and computer terminals, not stockbrokers and traders. The building is a heavily fortified and well-protected relic, since most financial market activity is done in the trading rooms of major investment banks, not on the floor of the stock exchange. The Bloomberg strategy to diversify lower Manhattan’s office sector has turned out to be a wise one.

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