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Chairman of WTC Rebuilding Agencies Steps Down

Wed May 31, 2006 - Northeast Edition
Amy Westfeldt - ASSOCIATED PRESS



NEW YORK (AP) The chairman of two influential agencies in charge of rebuilding the World Trade Center site has announced his retirement May 11, but said he hoped to resolve a crisis over the costs of the Sept. 11 memorial by the time he leaves.

John C. Whitehead will step down at the end of the month as chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC), the agency created after the 2001 terrorist attacks to rebuild the trade center site and downtown.

He also is retiring as chairman of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation — which is raising money to build the memorial.

“I’m at a somewhat advanced age. There’s no good time to resign from something like this,” said Whitehead. “Despite the challenges we’ve faced, I am proud of our accomplishments.”

Whitehead, a former deputy secretary of state and Goldman Sachs Inc. chairman, was the founding leader of a city-state organization created in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks to redevelop the destroyed 16-acre site.

The LMDC ran design competitions for a master plan for the site and for a memorial and has used some of its $2.7 billion in federal community development funds to pay to create parks, improve downtown streets and help local arts groups. It has $140 million left in funding to approve.

Gov. George Pataki, who created the LMDC with then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani, said May 11, “I think the bulk of the work of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation is behind it and is going to have less and less of a critical role to play as we go forward, but we still want to have a good chairman.”

Stefan Pryor, the LMDC’s president, called Whitehead “a true American hero” and credited him with the creation of temporary memorials such as the Tribute in Light, which shines two blue light beams inspired by the twin towers skyward every Sept. 11. Whitehead also worked to make business and residential grants available and heavily promoted culture and the arts as a centerpiece for redevelopment, he said.

Whitehead said he will spend his remaining time at the LMDC coming up with a workable construction budget for the memorial. Contractors recently said the memorial would cost $972 million to build and city and state leaders said the budget would have to be cut to $500 million.

Officials of the foundation, which came up with the new estimate, have been meeting with the owners of the trade center site to clarify the numbers. Rebuilding officials haven’t said how they might change the design of the memorial, called “Reflecting Absence,” to cut costs.

Pataki acknowledged there would be changes but said he hopes to retain “essential elements” of the design, which he said included two reflecting pools representing the fallen towers, contemplative areas around them and the names of the approximately 3,000 people killed.

The current design also calls for oak trees in a large plaza and an underground Sept. 11 museum.

Whitehead’s replacement at the LMDC hasn’t been named. He will remain a board member at the foundation, formed to fund-raise and eventually own and operate the memorial and other cultural space. Whitehead recently handed over day-to-day responsibilities as chairman to Thomas Johnson, a retired bank executive and father of a Sept. 11 victim. The foundation board will elect a new chairman later.