Who Owns Ground Zero? Don't Expect a Simple Answer
World trade was not exactly the lifeblood of the World Trade Center, and the twin towers were not really twins. The proposed Wedge of Light will be in shadow, the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower will be a 1,500-foot building (not counting spire) and the memorial "footprints" may not correspond exactly to the original building outlines.
In other words, what is said about the World Trade Center site can sometimes be at odds - if ever so slightly - with fine-grained reality.
Case in point: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey owns the 16-acre trade center site. That statement of fact is repeated reflexively in accounts of the ground zero rebuilding. But it turns out that it may not be quite true. "Our research indicates that the city retains title to a significant interior portion of the former W.T.C. site, in addition to street and sidewalk widening areas that surrounded the building perimeters," Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff wrote in a letter to the Port Authority and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation that was released on Tuesday.
Referring to the general project plan for the site, he continued, "The footprints of buildings proposed under the G.P.P. are located within portions of this city property." Rather than deny the city's surprising assertion, the Port Authority acknowledged the existence of "ambiguities over ownership of miscellaneous strips of property at the World Trade Center site," going back to the 1960's. Those strips, the authority said, are the former routes of Greenwich Street, from Vesey to Liberty Street; and Fulton, Dey and Cortlandt Streets, from Greenwich to Church Street. Together, they account for more than two and a half acres. The authority said it has clear title to the former street routes through the site west of Greenwich Street, where the towers stood.
Although a 1967 agreement between the city and the authority envisioned the transfer of street ownership, city officials say they believe that title may not technically have been conveyed to all of the streets. That was not enough of a cloud to prevent the original center from being built or to prevent Silverstein Properties from signing a 99-year lease on the property. But the issue was first on a list of nine that Mr. Doctoroff wants addressed in a formal agreement he has proposed to govern redevelopment of the trade center. Herman Badillo, a former borough president of the Bronx, was one of two members of the city's Board of Estimate to have voted against the 1967 agreement. (Borough President Percy E. Sutton of Manhattan was the other.) "The more the city is involved, as far as I'm concerned, the better," Mr. Badillo said yesterday, "because I've never found that the Port Authority is interested in looking after the interests of the people of New York City."
MR. DOCTOROFF said in an interview that he had not raised the ownership question as a negotiating tactic. However, it is also true that the future of streets and sidewalks through the trade center site is of great concern to city planners. "Whether or not the streets on the site are ultimately in city ownership, they must be open to vehicular and pedestrian traffic," Mr. Doctoroff's letter said. That is not necessarily a position with which the Port Authority agrees.
There is a history of using streets as bargaining chips, going back to Mayor John V. Lindsay, who wanted to extract as much money and as many concessions as he could from the trade center project. He faced an imposing adversary in Austin J. Tobin, the executive director of the authority. In 1966, an unidentified member of the mayor's negotiating team was quoted in The New York Times as saying, "If it weren't for the street closing he needs for the trade center, Tobin wouldn't be giving us the time of day." Today, the authority says it is committed - as is the city - "to resolving technical title issues at the site."
But even if the ownership issue turns out to have been a housekeeping footnote, it is a reminder to be careful about accepting trade center facts at face value. Coming up in Blocks: Is the site really 16 acres?