NYP’s Refreshing Outrage

Cuozzo tears into ground zero nonsense

A Credit to the New York Post for some righteous anger about still more delays at the World Trade Center construction site, and for earlier analysis of the latest questionable ground zero deal.

We recently heard from the New York press that—surprise!—work at ground zero is behind schedule yet again. The Port Authority announced June 11 that it would not have the Tower 2 site finished by the June 30 deadline, and so would pay developer Larry Silverstein $300,000 per day until the land is finally construction-ready.

This delay comes after the Port Authority’s forty-eight-day-late handover of the sites for towers 3 and 4—likewise costing millions in penalties to Silverstein.

We have long been amazed by Larry Silverstein’s uncanny ability to design agreements in which he is the prime beneficiary, literally at the expense of taxpayers. So flipping through the rather wan coverage of this latest windfall—articles like this one have an air of resignation about them—we were pleased to find at least one person who still has enough energy to be offended by the goings-on at ground zero.

The Post’s influential Steve Cuozzo rants:

So, Gov. Paterson has directed his newly appointed Port Authority executive director, Chris Ward, to ‘audit’ the state of Ground Zero construction. Having followed the story for more than six years, I think I can save Ward a lot of time and trouble.

If he’s honest, he’ll level with the public about what’s really been accomplished at the World Trade Center site: next to nothing.

And continues:

Sure, there are a lot of machines making a lot of noise. You can’t close down one ‘temporary’ PATH terminal and put in an entirely new one just a few feet away without making a racket.

But lots of what’s going on is what real-estate developers derisively call ‘moving dirt around.’ The likelihood it will result in even a single component of the new WTC being finished on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, just over three years from now, is nil.

This piece follows another Credit-worthy one Cuozzo wrote a few weeks earlier on the Port’s agreement to add six months (no penalties!) onto Silverstein’s deadline for finishing Tower 3, and four months onto the deadline for Tower 4.

That’s so Silverstein can reconfigure Tower 3 in order to convince Merrill Lynch to move in. In the wake of this deal, Cuozzo reasonably pointed out:

Of course, a Merrill move to the WTC site would be the best news since 9/11. But if the financial giant doesn’t bite, Silverstein and the PA will have only found another way to push back overdue reconstruction.

Just a few months ago, Silverstein and the PA declared that the 2012 deadlines for the office towers were good as gold.

Cuozzo isn’t alone in his skepticism regarding the deal. A colleague of his, Post writer Bob McManus, was even blunter:

Much more likely, though, is that Merrill is on a subsidy-scrounging expedition; it lost billions last year, it needs desperately to recapitalize—and some believe it barely can afford its current Battery Park City digs.

Bottom line?

On Friday, Silverstein had six months longer—and likely longer than that—to complete his buildings, penalty-free, than he did on Wednesday.

Nice analysis.

To show that you don’t need to be a tabloid reporter to present the problems with this deal, we found an Associated Press story with a credible critical voice:

‘Should this all go through, they’ll [Merrill Lynch] decide to move across the street,’ said Bettina Damiani, project director at Good Jobs New York, a government watchdog group.

She said many companies prioritize transportation options and the location of their labor force over incentives like those the city and state offers.

‘To give away the fiscal store to companies for the short-term, press-release hit … shouldn’t be at the expense of the city’s fiscal future,’ she said.

Along with the strong Post pieces, this is a nice departure from the press’s general tendency to report on the recent deals and delays at ground zero without thinking too much.

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Elinore Longobardi is a Fellow and staff writer of The Audit, the business-press section of Columbia Journalism Review.