Pataki Tries to Put WTC Redevelopment Back on Track

Wed June 01, 2005 - Northeast Edition
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NEW YORK (AP) Trying to put the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site back on track after a series of snags, Gov. George Pataki gave assurances May 12 that a new, more terrorism-resistant design for the 1,776-ft. Freedom Tower will be ready by next month.

“Failure to rebuild is not an option,” the Republican governor said in a speech in downtown Manhattan. “We will not tolerate unnecessary delays.”

The announcement came just eight days after Pataki announced the Freedom Tower would have to be sent back to the drawing board to address security concerns raised by the police department. Officials have said the concerns would probably delay the tower’s 2009 opening by at least a year.

Police were worried that the tower would be too close to the street, making it vulnerable to car or truck bombings. Police spokesman Paul Browne said the new design will double the distance from the street and calls for thicker glass.

The security concerns were the latest of several problems that have plagued the Pataki-led efforts to rebuild the site — one of the nation’s most closely watched construction projects. The troubles included a long battle over the tower’s original design, the placement of a mass transit hub and the design of a memorial to the nearly 3,000 people killed in the Sept. 11 attack.

The project holds the potential to become Pataki’s crowning achievement, but in recent weeks, it began to look like a political liability for the governor, who has yet to decide whether to seek a fourth term in 2006 or perhaps run for president or vice president in 2008.

Pataki gave no date for the Freedom Tower’s completion but said that a new design would be unveiled by the end of June, and that officials would set out “an aggressive schedule” then for the construction of the tower.

Pataki made it clear that the twisting glass and steel tower, topped by a giant spire, will still be 1,776 ft. high, the tallest skyscraper in the world. The height is meant to evoke the year of America’s independence.

The governor also appointed one of his closest aides, chief of staff John Cahill, to take charge of rebuilding of ground zero and James Kallstrom, a former New York City FBI chief, to handle any security concerns.

Little progress has been made on the Freedom Tower beyond a cornerstone that was laid by Pataki and other officials on July 4, 2004.

Other elected officials, including Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer and state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, have been critical in recent weeks as the redevelopment experienced several setbacks.

But Schumer was optimistic following Pataki’s speech, praising its “urgency and deadline-oriented thinking.”

“It sounded a very different tone that I hope will shake off the lethargy and inertia that has bogged down downtown’s revitalization,” he said.

The governor also called on Goldman Sachs & Co., which recently scuttled its plans for a $2-billion corporate headquarters near ground zero, to return to lower Manhattan. “Goldman, downtown is your home,” Pataki said. “You belong here.”

Goldman Sachs spokesman Peter Rose said, “We look forward to working with Mr. Cahill and the governor.”

Goldman Sachs halted its plans for the 40-story tower amid concerns over a proposed tunnel that would run beneath ground zero. The firm said the tunnel would send traffic too close to the building’s entrance.

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