Editorial

Port Authority should refuse World Trade Center developer

From left to right front row: U.S. Rep.

From left to right front row: U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, World Trade Center developer Larry A. Silverstein and U.S. Rep. Peter T. King watch as construction workers lift the final steel beam by crane 977 feet in the air and placed atop 4 World Trade Center. (Credit: Charles Eckert)

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Larry Silverstein has hit a serious bump as he struggles to build Tower 3 on the World Trade Center site to its planned height of 80 stories.

He's run into trouble financing the project -- and now he wants the Port Authority to guarantee about $1.2 billion in loans to complete the building.

But instead of a friendly nod, the developer has set off a heated tussle on the newly transparent Port Authority board, where well-founded questions have emerged:

At a time when the World Trade Center reconstruction project has already strained Port Authority resources, why would the agency want to risk more money with a bet on Silverstein's ability to turn a profit?

And why would the authority and Silverstein want to compete with themselves? The main rivals to 3 WTC would be Silverstein's 4 WTC, which opened in November, and the Port Authority's l WTC, opening soon. Leasing on the WTC site has been a little on the slow side lately.

What's the rush? Lower Manhattan today is one of the city's strongest new residential and commercial districts -- and the rebuilt World Trade Center should boost its metamorphosis dramatically. When the market for 3 WTC appears, the money to build it should materialize.

The big question -- at bottom -- is how quickly lower Manhattan can absorb new office space.

But fortunately, 3 WTC has already been designed to grow easily -- from a base of several stories of retail tenants to a major downtown office tower -- when the time is right. As the commercial market materializes, Silverstein can uncap the retail pedestal and build upward.

That's always been the plan. When the Twin Towers opened in the 1970s, they attracted hundreds of tenants from older Financial District buildings. Private landlords grumbled plenty about that. They were especially angry to wind up competing with publicly subsidized developers.

In 2002 the master planners of the new WTC wanted to avoid that mistake again. The Port Authority board can now do exactly that by saying no to Silverstein.

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