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Pataki Says He Will Maintain Leading Role at Ground Zero

Wed December 14, 2005 - Northeast Edition
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NEW YORK (AP) Gov. George E. Pataki said Nov. 22 he would maintain a leading role in ground zero redevelopment until he leaves office at the end of 2006, dismissing talk of ceding control of the rebuilding to an increasingly interested Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Pataki, who met with Bloomberg recently to discuss their visions for the 16-acre World Trade Center site, called the relationship a successful partnership in which he and the mayor agree on redevelopment issues “more than 99 percent of the time.”

But in an interview with The Associated Press, Pataki said that his involvement in rebuilding would not change.

“The mayor and I are making a very clear statement that we are going to personally continue to be deeply involved and that’s the way it should be,” he said. “I couldn’t be any more involved.”

“There’s nothing more important” than redevelopment of the site, he added.

Bloomberg’s office didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

Pataki has called the rebuilding of downtown Manhattan a centerpiece of his legacy, and appointed Chief of Staff John Cahill earlier this year to head efforts to build office towers, a memorial to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, retail and arts space at the site.

Bloomberg has largely allowed Pataki to take the lead in downtown redevelopment since 2002, instead pursuing bids, which failed, to bring the Olympics to New York and a stadium to the far West Side. But shortly before his re-election, he became more vocal about ground zero, proposing that schools and apartments replace some of the planned office space and suggesting that trade center developer Larry Silverstein be removed.

Silverstein has a lease with the site owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, that entitles him to rebuild 10 million sq. ft. of office space destroyed on Sept. 11.

Pataki said Nov. 22 it was important to build a “critical mass” of commercial space at the site, but left open the possibility for other uses of the site if there wasn’t sufficient demand for all the planned office space.

“I don’t know that 10 million is the magic number,” the governor said. “Down the road, I’m not going to project where things might be with office space demand five, 10 years from now.”

Since they met recently, the governor said that he and Bloomberg have agreed to preserve a master plan for the site, which included office towers, the memorial and memorial museum, a transit hub, cultural center and performing arts complex.

He wouldn’t say where he and the mayor still disagreed, calling the differences “details.”

“This is New York. People are always going to want to have it done yesterday or have it done their way,” Pataki said.

The governor also said that the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the agency he created in 2001 with former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, still has a role to play in rebuilding. But he said he didn’t know how long the agency would still be in business, said “it depends on how much progress is made over the next six months.”

Bloomberg said the agency had little power but both he and the governor appointed some of their closest advisers to fill board vacancies.

The governor also said he favored a Port Authority proposal to oversee construction of the trade center memorial, scheduled to begin next spring. The nonprofit World Trade Center Memorial Foundation has been charged with building the memorial and cultural space, as well as raising the money to pay for it.

The foundation has privately raised $101 million of a budget for memorial and cultural buildings that some estimates place near $1 billion. The LMDC has pledged $300 million.

Pataki said he wouldn’t rule out finding more government funding for the project, although he didn’t commit the state’s money. He said he hadn’t yet made a personal donation to the foundation, but planned to.

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