Secretary-General Kofi Annan's recommendation that the United Nations abandon plans to build a 35-story "swing space" on a neighboring city park may have hurt the world body's chances of ever getting Albany's approval for constructing consolidation space there, state legislators said yesterday.
On Tuesday, Mr. Annan issued a report to the General Assembly in which he urged the body to use leased commercial space to accommodate offices temporarily while the United Nations undergoes a $1.2 billion renovation to its headquarters. Delays in Albany, where the Senate has refused to take up legislation required for the eventual construction of the 900,000-square-foot edifice on the parcel now occupied by the Robert Moses playground, have all but precluded the building as a viable swing-space option, according to the Annan report.
U.N. officials have said, however, that they remain committed to building the structure as consolidation space to accommodate staff scattered around the city after the renovations are completed. At a briefing yesterday, U.N. officials said they had information that the New York Legislature would act soon to consider the stalled bill.
One of the state senators most opposed to the United Nations' taking over the Moses playground, however, said the announcement that the world body was considering temporary commercial leasing elsewhere - eliminating any deadline by which the legislature had to move on the bill - meant there was even less reason for the Senate to spend time to help the United Nations put up a new building.
The Senator, Serphin Maltese, a Republican of Queens, said: "Now that there's no necessity for us to consider it in any timely manner," it is unlikely the Senate would consider the bill in this session, or would "act at all at any time in the future" to help transfer the park for U.N. use.
In terms of consolidation space, the United Nations "should be looking for an alternative site" to New York, and "now they'll have plenty of time," Mr. Maltese said.
He recommended France.
The possible relocation of U.N. headquarters to Europe, either temporarily or permanently, has been suggested both by opponents of the organization who want it out of America, and by those who would like to see the world body remain here but worry that not granting the organization the facilities it seeks would force it into the embrace of eager European cities, such as Bonn, the former West German capital.
U.N. officials, however, dismissed the idea yesterday. Given the cost and difficulty of relocating the headquarters abroad, the chances "are extremely remote that we'll have to go very far away," one official said. Under the terms of yesterday's briefing, officials could not be identified by name.
According to the secretary-general's report, the United Nations has reviewed more than 100 locations in and around the city for temporary commercial leasing during the headquarters renovations. A real-estate firm is helping the organization scout properties, and, according to the report, the United Nations has identified two particularly promising options, at downtown Brooklyn and Midtown Manhattan. The world body has also confirmed that it looked at 7 World Trade Center.
While the suggestion of a temporary move to a site in Brooklyn - which the real-estate blog Curbed identified as the skyscraper planned by Thor Equities at 120 Willoughby St. - generated a buzz when it was reported yesterday, U.N. officials downplayed the idea, saying it was one of many possibilities, including recommended properties in New Jersey. A final determination on the location of temporary leased office space, the U.N. officials said, would have to come at the end of this year or the beginning of 2006.
Tuesday's announcement struck another vocal opponent of the Moses project, State Senator Martin Golden, Republican of Brooklyn, as part of a scheme by the world body to help it secure Albany's early approval for the structure.
"I don't think they're going to Brooklyn," he said. "I think that's just a ploy. They still want what they want, and they'll try to get what they want before the end of the session." The legislative sessions is scheduled to end next month.
Mr. Golden, however, said the United Nations would not get Senate permission for a swing space or a consolidation building over Robert Moses until Mr. Annan stepped down, especially now that time pressures had been removed.
Majority Leader Joseph Bruno's spokesman Mark Hansen said there was no change in the Senate leadership's position.
A co-sponsor of the legislation in the Assembly, Jonathan Bing, Democrat of Turtle Bay, likewise said his position had remained unchanged, especially since he'd received no official notification from the state-city United Nations Development Corporation that the Robert Moses building had been scrapped as a swing space option.