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Comments by YACCS
Saturday, April 22, 2006

Four years of stagnation

Ground Zero

Get lost, Larry


From around the world, people come to New York and stare into the pit at Ground Zero and wonder why nothing has been built in almost five years where the World Trade Center stood. Heck, most New Yorkers are as baffled - and plenty mad because they've lived with endless haggling that has reduced the future of hallowed ground to a grubby real estate deal.

This disgrace must end. And there is only one way to chart a fresh course: Developer Larry Silverstein has to go. The city and the nation will be the better for his departure, and so will he. In fact, he can walk away $300 million richer. Have a nice windfall, Larry. Just go.

Silverstein earned the boot from Ground Zero by telling the governors of New York and New Jersey and the mayor he couldn't simply accept the terms of a deal that represents the last best hope for building without, you guessed it, further negotiations. Squeeze, he must.

It is an accident of history that Silverstein leased the WTC from the Port Authority just before 9/11 and maintains control of the site. He portrays himself as a gung-ho-to-build, can-do guy held back by government bumbling. This is half a helping of horse hockey.

The politicians - Gov. Pataki, front and center - have made a hash of things with a development plan built on economic fantasies. But Silverstein played along with the charade, risking none of his own money while standing to rake in a half-billion dollars before the project inevitably went bust. Then, Mayor Bloomberg exposed the Pataki-Silverstein house of cards, forcing all to confront the issue of putting the development on the soundest possible financial footing.

In the ensuing negotiations, Silverstein pushed for no risk and all return, while exploiting Pataki's failure to coordinate with Bloomberg, the Port Authority - which saw the train wreck coming - and Jersey's Gov. Jon Corzine, who shares control of the PA. Finally, the public officials spoke with one voice in proposing a new deal to Silverstein.

The terms aren't pretty. They sock taxpayers for $350 million, devoting $250 million in state money held by the Port Authority to building Pataki's prized Freedom Tower and $100 million from the agency to help pay for the struggling 9/11 memorial. They also envision an office complex heavily occupied by government agencies rather than by businesses in a dynamic new financial center. But there's no choice. You put the money in, or nothing gets built.

The remainder of the provisions divide responsibility for construction. Silverstein would get the three most attractive office towers, while the PA would take over the Freedom Tower and sell off a fifth building for residential development. The package represents the best thinking for getting something done with this most valuable public space. But for Silverstein, it was one more chance to bargain.

And tomorrow, he'll find another, and the day after that and the day after that, he'll find more. Which is why the officials offered him an office tower, valued at roughly $250 million, plus $50 million in cash, if he would just go away. That's an offer you can't refuse, Larry. We'll see to it. Nothing personal, just the public good.

Nothing has gone right over Ground ZSero. Nearly five years later, they're still debating over what to build there and Larry Silverstein has been a major, but not the only reason. Mike Bloomberg walked away for the better part of two years more concerned with subsidizing the Jets instead of rebuilding downtown.

Finally,he's stepped in. Late.

The reason they're doing this is not altruism, but a Democratic governor and state government on the horizon. You can bet Spitzer and Corzine will come up with a plan very different than what Pataki has done. Which is stand around with a thumb up his ass since 9/11

posted by Steve @ 12:36:00 AM

12:36:00 AM

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