Plans try for more space at trade center site

Some offices would move, allowing larger memorial

August 11, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - To free more land at the World Trade Center site for open space and a memorial, city and state officials are discussing options that would reduce by nearly one-third the amount of office space that would have to be built to replace the 11 million square feet lost in the terrorist attacks.

The possibilities include having the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. buy the severely damaged Deutsche Bank building and then trade that land to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for some of the 16-acre trade center site, the officials said yesterday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. That deal would allow the Port Authority to move about 2 million square feet of office space off the site.

Also, Joseph Seymour, executive director of the Port Authority, has directed the agency's staff to move the headquarters, which had been at the site, and find suitable space elsewhere for the U.S. Customs Service office. Combined, those moves would free 1.5 million square feet.

Together, those plans would address the biggest criticism against the six initial proposals for the site that were released last month: that they tried to force too much office space on a small parcel of land. The Port Authority has come under severe criticism for being inflexible in its demands for the restoration of all of the commercial space at the trade center.

A land exchange involving the bank building would not preclude an eventual deal between the city of New York and the Port Authority to swap the trade center property for the land beneath the city's two major airports, Kennedy and La Guardia, the officials said.

But negotiations for that deal, which is far more complex, are expected to take at least months. The officials said the easier discussions of moving office space from the trade center property could be concluded rather quickly.

That would allow the development corporation to go ahead with a request for proposals from design firms for a new set of options for the site, with the understanding that some of the previous demands for commercial space would no longer be in place.

Michael Petralia, a spokesman for the Port Authority, declined to comment on the proposals under discussion. But he said that by considering "a number of different options," the agency was "trying to balance the need for a large and appropriate memorial with our contractual obligations" about office and retail space.

To maintain its rental income from office and retail space, which generated $120 million a year, the Port Authority is also considering using less space for offices and more for retail businesses. That would allow it to take in equivalent revenues because retail stores generally pay higher rents.

The details would have to be negotiated with Larry A. Silverstein, lead developer of office space at the trade center, and Westfield America, which owns the rights to retail space at the site. Silverstein has said he was open to options that would allow him to maintain his rights and allow for a larger memorial.

Matthew Higgins, a spokesman for the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., also declined to comment on specific options to move commercial space off the trade center site, an idea that has won support from Gov. George E. Pataki.

The Port Authority's idea of increasing retail space and decreasing office space could work, the rebuilding officials said, if much of the additional retail space were underground.

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