Pataki Backs Faso, Boasts of Success At Ground Zero

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The New York Sun

Governor Pataki used the traditionally slow pre-Fourth of July period to make news on two significant fronts yesterday, releasing positive numbers regarding development of the former World Trade Center site and re-establishing his ties with the state Republican Party by giving the GOP candidate for governor, John Faso, the maximum contribution allowed by law, $33,900.

Mr. Pataki had supported a former Massachusetts governor, William Weld, to replace him in New York, but the Republican Party’s conservative wing backed a successful challenge by Mr. Faso, a former senator from upstate. Mr. Pataki also gave $33,900 yesterday to the Republican candidate for attorney general, Jeanine Pirro, and the Republican candidate for state comptroller, J. Christopher Callaghan.

The campaign contributions from Mr. Pataki’s fund-raising arm for his likely presidential campaign, 21st Century Freedom PAC, were clearly designed to assuage critics who say he has not been sufficiently helpful to the state’s Republican candidates.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Pataki tried to sustain the momentum regarding redeveloping the World Trade Center site when he announced that the federal and state governments would lease well more than 1 million square feet of the Freedom Tower.

Mr. Pataki led the press corps on a campaign-style walking tour of the 16-acre construction area yesterday. He joined the site’s developer, Larry Silverstein, who arrived at the site in a chauffeur-driven silver Mercedes and his trademark black sunglasses

Several construction blasts were heard, and a few dozen workers were observed actively working on the site.

The governor announced that a memorandum of agreement was signed Wednesday between the Port Authority and the U.S. General Services Administration for the federal government to lease 600,000 square feet in the Freedom Tower. Mr. Pataki added that the New York State government would take between 500,000 and 1 million square feet in the tower.

As part of negotiations this spring, the task of leasing the Freedom Tower was transferred to the Port Authority from Mr. Silverstein. Mr. Pataki agreed to find government tenants for about 30 of the building’s 69 floors, which will happen if the government tenants move in eventually.

The chairman of the Port Authority, Anthony Coscia, voiced measured optimism for the Freedom Tower but told reporters there is a difference between intent and an actual lease.

Mr. Coscia said the new memorandum represented a “measurable, meaningful progress,” although only a signed lease would be enough to satisfy the Port Authority’s requirements to approve the conceptual agreement.

“Hopefully, we can turn those into leases by September,” Mr. Coscia said.

The GSA would replace office space that was destroyed at 6 World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Most of the space belonged to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which has since moved its local offices to New Jersey.

Senator Schumer, who has lobbied the GSA to relocate the Customs House back in New York, met with representatives of the agency two days ago. He indicated yesterday that negotiations with the federal government over leasing space at ground zero are far from complete.

“Despite being long overdue, the Customs House has now committed to the 600,000 square feet at Freedom Tower that we have asked for since they left Downtown,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “We’ve asked GSA – and believe it is their obligation – to get at least another 400,000 square feet with other federal agencies.”

Some real estate experts who saw the memorandum characterized it as a “loose” agreement. There is no mention of the rental rates for the space. In addition, the parties must reach a final agreement on terms and provisions, which must be approved by the federal Office of Management and Budget and Congress.

Still, Mr. Pataki appeared eager to report several recent gains at the former World Trade Center site. Government officials are trying to make visible progress on the redevelopment as the five-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks approaches.

In late April, Mr. Silverstein, the Port Authority, the state, and the city signed a conceptual framework over much-disputed development rights at the site, which allowed construction to proceed on the Freedom Tower.

Earlier this week, David Childs of the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill released updated designs for the Freedom Tower, with changes aimed at reducing the perception that the world’s tallest tower would be the world’s biggest bunker.

Last week, builder Frank Sciame issued recommendations that would set the cost of building the World Trade Center Memorial more in line with the $500 million budget that Messrs. Bloomberg and Pataki had insisted on.

Real estate analysts are now saying that the downtown office market is hot, and recent commercial lease signings at 7 World Trade Center and the World Financial Center have bolstered that claim.

The president of the Partnership for New York, Kathryn Wylde, said the recent momentum at the former World Trade Center site is coming from a “significant uptick” in the downtown office space market.

“Large blocks of space are in demand and not available at Midtown at less than $75 or $100 a square foot,” Ms. Wylde said. “Suddenly the opportunities in Lower Manhattan and at the Trade Center site are significantly greater.”

Several luxury residential developments, mostly conversions of older, outdated offices, are springing up in the Financial District, which can now board some new luxury retail outlets, including Hermes and Tiffany’s.

“Lower Manhattan’s very hot,” Mr. Pataki said yesterday, from a site overlooking the 16-acre void. “There is a lot to do. There will always be a lot to do.”

Several major issues need to be resolved before the Port Authority, which owns the former site of the World Trade Center, can finalize the conceptual agreement before the September 20 deadline.

The Port Authority and Mr. Silverstein filed suit this week in state Supreme Court to try to compel several insurance companies to contribute more than $1 billion that is necessary to build out the site. The insurers indicated that they may choose to dispute whether they owe the money under the new conceptual agreement. Government officials are asking the courts to consider the case before the Port Authority’s September deadline.

The New York Sun

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