Post-9/11 group: It’s up to you, New York

Kai Ryssdal and Amy Scott Aug 2, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: This September will be five years since the Twin Towers were destroyed. It’ll be at least another four before the Freedom Tower is done. But the agency set up in 2002 to run the rebuilding of lower Manhattan, the LMDC, is closing its doors. Marketplace’s Amy Scott is in New York with that story. Hi Amy.

AMY SCOTT: Hello, Kai.

RYSSDAL: LMDC. What is this thing supposed to be, anyway?

SCOTT: Well, it stands for Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. And it was created by the city and state as sort of a joint agency to oversee the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan. And the main job, of course, was to rebuild Ground Zero and create a permanent memorial honoring the victims. But it was also in charge of bringing arts organizations downtown, awarding federal grants and really revitalizing business in the whole area.

RYSSDAL: Now, I was in Manhattan not too long ago. I saw the Ground Zero site. It is still empty, I suppose you’d say. And yet, the LMDC is going out of business.

SCOTT: Right, well, there are many tasks unfinished down there as you can tell. You may have noticed across the street from the World Trade Center there’s a contaminated building that the agency was in charge of demolishing. That’s still standing. The memorial is unbuilt and there are lots of fundraising problems with that. So people are wondering: If you’re really done, you know, shouldn’t we be seeing more changes?

I talked to Paul Goldberger, who is the architecture critic for the New Yorker magazine:

PAUL GOLDBERGER: What they’re doing right now reminds me of that suggestion back in the ’60s that the way out of Vietnam was simply to declare that we had won the war and leave. LMDC has sort of declared that it’s won and is disbanding. But, in fact, it hasn’t won anymore than we won in Vietnam. It’s, in fact, leaving a very incomplete, uncertain project behind that’s in a lot of chaos and confusion.

SCOTT: Now, in the agency’s defense, some say that it was never meant to build buildings. That was the job of other groups. And that, you know, it’s job really was to come up with a master plan — which it did — and to hand out more than $2.5 billion in federal grants, which it also did.

RYSSDAL: Lemme go back to something that Paul Goldberger said in that piece of tape you had, Amy. Chaos and confusion . . . How much of the blame, really, for what the LMDC has not been able to do goes to the governor of New York, the state of New Jersey, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and everybody involved down there just not getting along?

SCOTT: Well, politics definitely has a lot to do with this. And there are many agencies that are in charge down there. What Goldberger told me was that one of the reasons this hasn’t worked is because the LMDC never really had authority over that property. There’s Larry Silverstein, the leaseholder; the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; as you said, a number of politicians; so, you know, perhaps getting rid of one more element of that bureaucracy will help.

RYSSDAL: Who’s in charge now, after the LMDC goes away?

SCOTT: Well, the work will be divvied up to other agencies. The memorial I mentioned will be overseen by the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, which is in charge of raising funds for the memorial as well. The Port Authority is managing construction of the planned office towers at Ground Zero. But given the slow progress over the last five years, I think a lot of people are wondering if that work will ever get done.

RYSSDAL: Amy Scott is Marketplace’s New York bureau chief pro-tem. Thanks, Amy.

SCOTT: Anytime.

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