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Governor Spitzer revives once-moribund LMDC

The convoluted tale of rebuilding Lower Manhattan has a new twist, and its name is Governor Eliot Spitzer. In his gubernatorial campaign last May, a pugnacious Spitzer pilloried the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) as “an absolute failure,” calling Ground Zero redevelopment an “Enron-style debacle.” Soon enough, the LMDC announced its mission accomplished—master plan chosen, memorial designed, culture programs picked. All that was left to do out the lights. Most expected the Spitzer administration to bolt the door for good measure.

Yet having vowed to root out bureaucratic bungling at Ground Zero, the Governor has decided the best tool at hand is…the LMDC. In an April 16 announcement, Spitzer appointed Avi Schick as chairman and David Emil as president of the agency,and framed the move as a blood transfusion for the anemic corporation.“With new leadership and a new direction,” Spitzer said in a statement,“ a reinvigorated LMDC will help revitalize an area that is important as an economic hub to New York and as a symbol of our freedom and resilience to all Americans.”

In a related changing of the guard, Charles Maikish, executive director of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, announced he will leave his post as omnibus overseer of more than 60 major downtown building projects in July. The agency has not yet named a successor to Maikish, a former JP Morgan Chase real estate executive who was appointed in 2005.

Governor Spitzer’s volte face on the LMDC has fueled suspicions that the state may be muscling in on the city’s turf.New appointee Schick serves as president and chief operating officer of the Empire State Development Corporation, the state’s lead economic development arm and LMDC’s parent agency. Emil,who owned the Windows on the World restaurant atop the World Trade Center, served as president of the Battery Park City Authority from 1988 to 1994. Emil takes over from Stefan Pryor, who was named Newark’s deputy mayor for economic development by Mayor Cory Booker last September.

At a City Council hearing the day of his appointment, Schick affirmed that the LMDC, which is nominally a joint city-state corporation, will be getting loud-and-clear cues from Albany.“Governor Spitzer believes that the LMDC will continue to play a vital role in the ongoing redevelopment efforts at Ground Zero and in Lower Manhattan,” Schick said. “LMDC will be the vehicle through which Governor Spitzer expresses his vision and articulates his voice in Lower Manhattan.”

What comes out of the governor’s megaphone regarding the rebuilding agenda and timeline remains for now an open question. Local residents, however, have welcomed a rapprochement with LMDC leaders, noting Schick’s sensitivity to community dismay over ground zero’s ever-eroding master plan. “Community Board 1 supported the masterplan, but the components are being chipped away,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, the board’s vice chairperson. The neighborhood groupcites plans todownsize theFrankGehry– designed performing arts center,which city officials want to trim to one tenant, the Joyce Theater,while relegating the Signature Theatre Company, which had also been slated for the building, to nearby Fiterman Hall.

On that front, Schick has assured local groups that their voices will also be heard. In his council testimony, he suggested that ballooning budgets, a hijacked governance structure, and dueling construction timelines had made the performing arts center— and, one might conclude,Ground Zero as a whole— ripe for an overhaul.“This was the state of affairs that Governor Spitzer inherited,” Schick told the council,“and it is this state of affairs which mandates that we return to the drawing board.” 

Jeff Byles