The head of the Port Authority said Thursday he was "mildly optimistic" that an agreement with the World Trade Center site's developer over financing for three stalled office towers could be reached before Friday's deadline.
If the developer, Larry Silverstein, and the authority cannot reach an agreement by Friday, an arbitration panel will decide the issue, which officials fear could further delay construction by months or even years. The panel did not specify an exact time Friday.
The Port Authority has offered to provide financing for one tower, but Silverstein, citing the difficult economy, wants the agency to finance two of the three. The Port Authority has said Silverstein should find corporate tenants and private financing before building the other two.
"Mr. Silverstein has to get some real money, get some real tenants," Port Authority executive director Chris Ward said Tuesday. "That's why you build buildings. You don't build empty buildings as monuments."
Speaking at a breakfast of the New York Building Congress Thursday, Ward took a softer tone. "We're making progress," he said. "There are meetings going on right now and that have been going on and I plan to join those meetings. There is a sense that common ground is being reached and I am mildly hopeful."
A spokesman for Silverstein offered no comment except to say negotiations were continuing.
Hundreds of construction workers, joined by several local elected officials who lambasted the slow pace of rebuilding, rallied Tuesday calling for development to speed up at the site.
Some work is progressing at Ground Zero, including construction of the skyscraper One World Trade Center, the transit hub designed by Santiago Calatrava and the national memorial, which is scheduled to open in time for the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11.
Last month, an arbitration panel warned Silverstein and the Port Authority that if they did not resolve the financing issue by Friday, it would impose its own solution.
In an op-ed published Thursday in The New York Times, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) urged the Port Authority to provide Silverstein with more credit assistance.
"Because the new World Trade Center has been designed so that all the buildings share key infrastructure, an indefinite delay for one building would delay the entire eastern side of the site," Silver and Bloomberg wrote. "That would mean the loss of 10,000 construction jobs and leave us with an enormous empty lot where we should have a revitalized Trade Center. That outcome is unacceptable."