The Remarks Of Speaker Sheldon Silver

The Downtown Lower Manhattan Association Breakfast Talk

Marriott NY Downtown, 85 West St. @ Albany St., Manhattan
Friday, May 8, 2009

[As Prepared For Delivery]

New York 1 News Report
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Speaker Silver was the featured guest at the Downtown Lower Manhattan Association’s May 8th breakfast talk. There he expressed his frustration with the stalled rebuilding effort at the World Trade Center site. Silver urged all of the project’s stakeholders to come together and to honor the moral and national obligation to rebuild Lower Manhattan.

Thank you, Liz [President Berger], for those kind words … and thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your warm welcome.

It is a privilege and a pleasure to be the featured speaker at this Downtown Lower Manhattan Association breakfast.

Elizabeth Berger. Robert Douglass. Bill Rudin. Jim Cavanaugh. Avi Schick. Janno Lieber. Carl Weisbrod. Madelyn Wils. Members of Community Board One, led by Vice Chair Catherine McVay Hughes. Leaders and Advocates for a better and more prosperous Lower Manhattan.

My thanks to the Association and to the Alliance for Downtown New York for once again providing me this forum to discuss the state of Lower Manhattan's recovery as we approach the eighth anniversary of September Eleventh.

Before I get into my remarks, let me express my heartfelt gratitude to Liz Berger and to this Membership, for all of the vitality, the generosity and the leadership you bring to my hometown community and for all you are doing to improve the quality of life throughout Lower Manhattan.

A special word of thanks to my friend, Bill Rudin, the Chair of the Association for a Better New York for all you do for all the Rudin Family and the Association does … to ensure this city is - and always will be - the greatest place in the world to live, to work, to visit and to do business.

Even with a weakened economy and the Wall Street restructuring, progress is occurring.

Construction is proceeding on P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School - the two new schools we have gained to accommodate the ever growing Lower Manhattan population.

While that construction is under way, Kindergarten students from both schools will begin classes this coming Fall, in "incubator schools" located in space I secured in the Tweed Courthouse.

Work has begun on the East Side Waterfront and ground was broken recently for a new "Imagination" playground at the Burling Slip.

Working with the City University, the Governor and the Mayor, I am proud to say that we secured $340 million for the remediation and deconstruction of the existing Fiterman Hall, and for the construction of a new, state-of-the-art Fiterman Hall in its place.

The South Ferry terminal project has been completed and work is under way on the World Trade Center Vehicle Security Center.

The steel skeleton of One World Trade now rises about ten stories above Vesey Street and progress is finally being reported on the long overdue and over-budget PATH station.

On that note, let me acknowledge Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward. He inherited an enormous challenge, and though he has only been in the job for a year, he has made solid progress in a number of areas.

Equally important Chris has made himself available to me and to the community on a regular basis; something no previous Port Authority executive director has ever done.

Let me also acknowledge the efforts of Larry Silverstein and his team at Silverstein Properties. Seven World Trade is now 85 percent leased and construction is under way on Four World Trade.

Whenever we talk about construction in Lower Manhattan, we must take a moment to tip our hats to Bob Harvey and his team at the Lower Manhattan Construction Command and to Avi Schick and David Emil of the LMDC.

Finally, I am pleased to report that we were able to reach an agreement on an MTA rescue plan in time for this morning's speech.

Mass transit, as we know, is the lifeblood of our region's economy and is critical to Lower Manhattan's future.

In February, I proposed a plan based on the report of the Ravitch Commission that would have saved the fare, prevented cuts in service and provided a stable long term funding stream for the MTA capital plan.

While the final legislation differs from my original proposal, I believe it accomplishes these goals and apportions the burden equitably among everyone who has a stake in the MTA's future.

I am especially pleased we were able to reach an agreement that provides $10.5 billion to fully fund two years of the next MTA Capital Plan.

During the 1970's fiscal crisis we stopped investing in the physical infrastructure of the MTA. It was a horrible mistake that had a devastating impact on the city and the region's economy.

As bad as the current crisis is, I have maintained throughout this debate that we simply can not make the same mistake again.

I am pleased that in the end we chose the better path.

The world financial crisis is indeed very bad and Wall Street is its epicenter.

At our lowest point following September 11th, Lower Manhattan was down nearly 80,000 jobs. While our comeback was under way, this financial crisis knocked us down again.

Gains are dissipating as the impact of the recession continues to be felt across the city and a number of big projects come off of the table.

In fact, the Assembly expects the entire state's financial sector to lose 82,000 jobs by the end of 2010.

But you don't need an economic forecast to demonstrate this, you can see it on the streets, as too many small businesses close up shop for a lack of customers.

As for office space, obviously, vacancy rates are up and rents are down. The Class A vacancy rate in Downtown is up significantly this year.

Clearly, the road to recovery will be long and we have a lot more work to do to put Downtown back on its feet.

That is a small part of the economic picture, and only part of the larger challenge that we are facing in Lower Manhattan.

In my earlier progress reports, I have told you that the Nation, the City and the State of New York, have a moral obligation to rebuild and revitalize this American community.

Over the years, I have expressed to you my profound concern that there is no comprehensive plan to advance Lower Manhattan's recovery swiftly and efficiently.

I have criticized the unwillingness of the executive branches - both in Washington and in Albany - to take ownership of this massive and historic urban rebuilding and revitalization project and I have continuously professed my faith in this City.

In our ability to return Lower Manhattan to its place as the third largest central business district in the nation and in our ability to build a more vibrant, 24/7, mixed-use community that is better and brighter than ever before.

I still believe and will always believe in New York, but I have grown weary of the unfulfilled commitments, the recalcitrance, the slowing of progress at the World Trade Center site, and the absence of a clear and steady focus from leadership at the highest levels of government on the needs of Lower Manhattan.

Seven years and eight months after the attacks, I am fed up with the stalling and I am exacerbated by the current state of the World Trade Center project; a SITE, I will remind everyone, where nearly 3,000 human beings - many of them, New Yorkers - lost or gave their lives.

That we are where we are after this much time is an embarrassment to our city, our state and to the nation.

Yes, there were unrealistic deadlines. Mistakes were made and it took time to bring together all of the stakeholders and open the lines of communication.

That's the part of our history that we cannot afford to repeat.

Let me read you a short paragraph from a history of the World Trade Center, that I recently came across:

"The twin towers of the World Trade Center were more than just buildings. They were proof of New York's belief in itself. Built at a time when New York's future seemed uncertain, the towers restored confidence and helped bring a halt to the decline of Lower Manhattan. Brash, glitzy, and grand, they quickly became symbols of New York."

This is the history we need to remember.

This is the spirit that we need to rekindle that quintessential, defiant New York spirit that will not be kept down.

A spirit that believes we can do anything we set our minds to, and then proves it.

This is the spirit that attracts the best and the brightest, the innovators and the builders to this great City.

I am not here today to take sides. Frankly, when it comes to Ground Zero and the future of Lower Manhattan, there should be no "sides."

I am here today to say, if we allow the current impasse to go on another few weeks, another few months, the failure will belong to all of us, so there must be no more stalled negotiations. No arbitration.

Given this economic crisis, I can appreciate the Port Authority's financial concerns. We cannot expect the taxpayers to foot the entire cost of all that we want and need to build.

At the same time every stakeholder must take on a share of the risk.

I propose to you that we are not building for today.

We are building for the economy that we want and the economy Lower Manhattan deserves, that is still years down the road.

Seven World Trade - the first building erected after September 11th when no one thought we could comeback from such devastation is a perfect example of what I am talking about.

What does it say about Downtown and about ourselves, if we do not build the office space that we promised to build?

Does it say that we have lost faith, again?

Is that the message we are sending?

Is that the decision we are making not to believe that Downtown can overcome this recession, as it has overcome economic crisis so many times in the past?

I hope not.

This is not the legacy I want to leave, this is not the legacy any of us wants to leave our children or our children's children.

The real question must be, how do we move forward, now.

As I have told you during each and every progress report, I will do whatever I can whatever it takes, to get the ball rolling again.

Over the years, I have brought various stakeholders together to facilitate agreement and to move the Lower Manhattan rebuilding process forward.

Privately, in recent days, I have offered to do the same thing again. Now, I am making that offer public.

We owe it to New Yorkers to bring everyone to the table - Governor Paterson, Governor Corzine, Mayor Bloomberg, Chris Ward, Larry Silverstein, myself and all of the stakeholders to facilitate an agreement on the World Trade Center site.

Along with this offer, I also have a few demands.

In keeping with my message this morning, I am calling for the construction of at least two towers, with the provision that all of the stakeholders must share in the risk.

Next, to quote from Liz Berger's testimony at my January World Trade Center hearing:

"We want a rebuilt World Trade Center and an above-ground, architecturally significant Fulton Transit Center with significant retail.

That is what Lower Manhattan needs, what Lower Manhattan wants, and what Lower Manhattan deserves going forward."

To that, let me add that the Fulton Transit Center is the ultimate "shovel ready" project and that the federal stimulus money is there.

So, I am calling upon the Governor to keep his promise to Lower Manhattan by completing this critical transportation project.

We must also move forward with the performing arts center. As the Chair of Community Board One, Julie Menin, suggested at my World Trade Center hearing if we really want to reinvigorate Lower Manhattan and bring thousands of people downtown, we need a grand performing arts center.

To all of the stakeholders, I say that we need a detailed construction schedule for the Memorial, 130 Liberty Street, West Street, and the vehicle security center.

And to protect and enhance the quality of life in Lower Manhattan, we must have additional assistance for small businesses.

We must have a plan to deal with tour bus parking during the gap between the construction of the Memorial and construction of the bus garage and as I have said at least a thousand times, we must open Park Row to get customers into Chinatown.

Let me assure you that I know we have very passionate and capable leaders involved in this project at every level.

Still, for whatever reason, the dynamic has broken down again and we cannot afford to halt negotiations to continuously alter and re-alter our plans thereby adding to the already incalculable price of delay.

Let us leave here remembering the words of former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller who along with his brother, David Rockefeller - and this Association - led the effort to build the original World Trade Center.

Governor Rockefeller said, and I quote "America is not just a power, it is a promise. It is not enough for our country to be extraordinary in might. It must be exemplary in meaning."

This is what I am hoping to re-instill this morning in all of the stakeholders some sense of the meaning behind what we're trying to build here in Lower Manhattan.

I have lived in Lower Manhattan all of my life.

I have seen this City be knocked down and fight its way back to the top.

I have seen wave after wave of new immigrants survive in this City and become incredible success stories, with little more than an idea and a determination to succeed for the sake of their children's futures.

I have seen young men and women don the uniform of police officer and firefighter, and give their lives in service to this City none more gloriously, than on September 11th.

New York had meaning to all of them and to their families and it must have meaning for US once again.

Thank you.

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