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Port Authority Says It Can Build Trade Center Memorial Itself

By DAVID W. DUNLAP November 17, 2005 
  Reasserting its own importance in the rebuilding of ground zero as the governor and the mayor push and pull over the site, the Port Authority said yesterday that it would be prepared to construct the World Trade Center memorial itself. It also unveiled its own vision of a big shopping complex along the Church Street side of the site.

Renderings released by the authority offered the first glimpse of what stores might look like between Liberty Street and the future PATH terminal, even before two planned office towers get built there. They showed two short structures linked by a covered galleria where Cortlandt Street once ran, with almost as much retail space above and below ground - 375,000 square feet - as there was in the original trade center concourse.

The stores would not begin to open until around 2010. No tenants have been chosen, though large multilevel spaces suggest the possibility of mini-department stores. And there are many points of potential dispute yet to be negotiated, including the fate of Cortlandt Street, which the city would like to keep open.

Other talks about the trade center site in coming weeks will involve the possibility of the Port Authority assuming construction duties from the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, the 11-month-old private nonprofit corporation that is to finance, own and operate the memorial and the memorial museum.

That would probably simplify the engineering of an extraordinarily complex three-dimensional underground puzzle. It might streamline construction, reduce the haggling over who pays what for the common infrastructure, and even cut costs.

But it could also complicate the foundation's fund-raising if donors balked at giving money under the impression that the project was being financed by the authority.

Kenneth J. Ringler Jr., the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, emphasized yesterday that no decision had been made and that the authority's role in the memorial - if any - would be akin to a construction manager working on behalf of the foundation as its client.

As an analogy, he cited work performed by the Port Authority for the Long Island Rail Road at its station in Jamaica, Queens, in connection with the building of the AirTrain terminal there.

"We're very good at building things," Mr. Ringler said. "We've already got a $2 billion contract for the PATH terminal, we know the site better than anybody, and we think there would be a great benefit if we did this work for the foundation."

"If we were asked to do this," he said, "my colleagues at the Port would be honored."

A spokeswoman for the foundation, Lynn Rasic, said last night, "We're not familiar with the proposal, but it's the foundation's responsibility to build a fitting memorial in a way that maximizes the money being raised for this effort."

Debra Burlingame, a foundation board member who gained prominence in the fight over the International Freedom Center, said she had not heard about the authority's possible involvement. But as a general principle, she said, "I'd like the foundation to have control of the memorial quadrant."

Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff said that "from some perspectives, it makes a lot of sense" for the authority to supervise construction of the memorial. "A lot of work has to be done quickly to ensure what we do there really maximizes the efficiency of the construction," said Mr. Doctoroff, who was named to the board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation this week by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

About the authority's retail presentation, he said, "They've attempted to think very creatively about retail space." But Mr. Doctoroff added that the city was "very concerned" about turning Cortlandt Street into a galleria, because it would block views from Lower Manhattan to the World Trade Center memorial and would create an unbroken wall of buildings from Liberty Street to the PATH terminal.

Anthony R. Coscia, the chairman of the Port Authority, said the renderings were not intended to depict final architectural plans but were meant "to stimulate a certain amount of discussion" and to whet the interest of prospective retail tenants.

"Many establishments that are looking for national recognition would find this an attractive site," he said.

The three-story retail buildings could include large rooftop transfer slabs - so big that they would amount to a fourth floor - on top of which office towers could be constructed when the downtown real estate market called for them.

But Mr. Coscia said the authority would prefer the retail and commercial development on those sites to occur simultaneously

The authority's plan calls for 375,000 square feet of retail space on five levels at the site of Tower 3, next to the PATH terminal, and Tower 4, at Liberty Street, joined by the "Cortlandt Way" galleria. There would also be 130,000 square feet on three levels in the PATH terminal and surrounding concourses, and 100,000 square feet above ground in Tower 2, at Vesey Street, and Tower 5, where the former Deutsche Bank building stands.

Charles A. Gargano, the vice chairman of the Port Authority, who was named to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation board by Gov. George E. Pataki this week, said the goal - with or without office towers - was to have "all of the Church Street side completed, because it's a more integral part of Lower Manhattan."

Conceding that the city had a different view of Cortlandt Street, Mr. Gargano sounded like a strong advocate of the galleria, which he described as "a spectacular atrium similar to the World Financial Center Winter Garden directly across the way."

The company with the greatest vested interest in the retail plans is Silverstein Properties, which holds the commercial lease on the trade center site but not the retail lease, which the Port Authority bought back in 2003 from Westfield America.

After Larry A. Silverstein, the developer, was shown the retail proposal yesterday, he was said by a spokesman to have been "impressed with what he saw."

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