WTC owners rewrite expectations at ground zero

October 2, 2008 2:50:38 PM PDT
Ground zero's owners delayed a multibillion-dollar transit hub Thursday and pledged to open a nearly complete Sept. 11 memorial by the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. But they set no firm schedule for the completion of the entire site, which includes four office towers and a performing arts center.

In a widely awaited 70-page report on ground zero's tortured rebuilding process, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey agency said the elaborate rail hub will cost $3.2 billion, $700 million more than planned, and should open in 2014, five years after the original completion date.

Overall, construction at the site will cost more than $1 billion over budget, the report said.

The planned memorial to the attacks will be finished by Sept. 11, 2011, the report said, except that some of the 500 trees in a cobblestone plaza may not be planted and a visitor's center may not be open. Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg had publicly urged the agency to guarantee completion by the anniversary.

Paterson said the report gives certainty to the rebuilding process.

"We know what we are building, how long it will take and how much it will cost," the governor said.

Bloomberg, who chairs the foundation building the memorial, gave only measured support to the pledge to open the memorial on time.

"Fully completing the memorial by the 10th anniversary of 9/11 remains our goal and this plan doesn't accomplish that," he said.

The Port Authority's executive director, Christopher Ward, said he could not offer a schedule for three office towers being built by developer Larry Silverstein or for the arts center. He said the schedule for another office tower under the agency's control would be driven by demand for office space.

The report said an underground Sept. 11 museum should open in 2013, four years later than originally planned.

Completion of the signature project, a 1,776-foot Freedom Tower now under construction, is about $200 million over budget and will be delayed several months to 2013, it said.

"While we still face many challenges ahead, we believe we have created a level of certainty and control over this project that has been missing since its inception," Ward said.

He said the report reflects an understanding of the realities of building from scratch a complex of interconnected skyscrapers, transit links and cultural space in a hole seven stories deep. He said he realized the new deadlines "will be met with a degree of skepticism."

Deadlines for almost every project at the site have changed since plans were first introduced in 2003 and Ward acknowledged the new schedule could also change.

"I cannot promise that we will meet every single milestone every step of the way," he wrote. "This is the most complex construction program in the region's history and setbacks are inevitable."

Most of the report seemed to involve transportation plans, including the rail hub designed by Santiago Calatrava and links to several subway lines, one of which sits in the midst of several construction projects.

The hub's mezzanine will be redesigned, adding columns to an open space. Ward said that the agency considered leaving a temporary hub in place and not building further, but that federal transit funds had been dedicated to Calatrava's design, which is meant to be reminiscent of Grand Central Terminal.

Ward noted that the memorial is scheduled to open when construction on most other projects at the site will be at its peak.

The agency said that part of the 1-9 subway line will have to close for several weeks next year to expedite construction elsewhere, and that its PATH commuter rail line will have to shut down on weekends for nearly a year.

The agency proposed creating an office of program logistics to manage the site's issues; its duties seem to replicate a construction command center created a few years ago by the governor and the mayor.

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