Plans for World Trade Center site in disarray as Sept. 11 anniversary approaches

Sunday, August 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ As the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy approaches, plans for the World Trade Center site are in disarray, tainted by criticism that they're boring and small-minded.

``There's no clear consensus on the major ingredients,'' said Richard T. Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress, a construction industry association. ``There is a lot of sorting out that needs to be done.''

The negative feedback, especially from the loved ones of survivors, has the attention of state and city officials, who say they will pursue more creative alternatives to plans put together by the prestigious architectural firm of Beyer Blinder Belle.

Some elements do seem certain _ a memorial to the victims, a transportation hub and commercial buildings. But a major sticking point is protecting the towers' ``footprints'' from development, as requested by many families of victims.

``That's where a lot of the remains were found,'' said Kathy Ashton, whose son Tommy died in the terrorist attack.

Gov. George Pataki has proposed redeveloping a downtown Manhattan area well beyond ground zero. And the agencies charged with rebuilding the site are opening up the design process to invite more diverse plans.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration has suggested a land swap that would let it take ownership of the site _ and gain greater control over redevelopment.

``Fundamentally, as a concept, the city should be in charge of its own destiny,'' Bloomberg said.

The site is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a two-state agency charged mainly with running the metropolitan area's transportation centers. The city would trade the land under John F. Kennedy International and La Guardia airports to the Port Authority, which runs the airports.

Though the idea has been well received, it faces daunting political hurdles. Some officials question whether the city should cede control of the airports, or give up the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual rent. A formal proposal is expected in coming weeks.

The city's emergence comes after the Port Authority and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the other agency in charge of rebuilding, drew near-unanimous negative reviews when they released six potential site plans last month.

Boston Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell called them ``shake and bake urban design; you just shuffle the same ingredients around.''

Two factors constrain the plans: the commercial space required by an existing lease; and the fervent desire among many victims' families that the footprints remain undeveloped.

Each of the initial plans included 11 million square feet of office space plus a hotel and a mall _ features that the Port Authority said are dictated by its lease with developer Larry Silverstein and his partner, mall operator Westfield America. In each plan, office towers of 60- to 80-plus stories were grouped around a memorial.

``They were all based on the Port Authority development program, which I would argue didn't make sense 40 years ago and doesn't make sense now,'' said Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, an independent urban planning organization.

In response, Pataki said redevelopment plans should include a larger area than the 16-acre trade center site _ possibly moving commercial redevelopment to nearby areas and leaving more space for a memorial and cultural uses on the site.

The negative reviews _ plus the possible land swap _ will apparently open the door to a broader range of designs, perhaps including housing and scaled back commercial development.

Sources involved in the planning process said over the weekend that the Port Authority was willing to reduce office space at the trade center site by as much as one-third.

However the plans shape up, more advice will be sought. Officials of the development corporation say they intend to open the design effort to include smaller design firms and foreign teams.

``We're looking at a number of creative ways to bring about more flexibility in the next phase of the planning process,'' said Matthew Higgins, a spokesman for the development corporation.