More than two years after the creation of the WTC PAC board and a month after Bloomberg’s departure from office, plans for the center remain unclear.
As published on ArtsCultureBeat.com on February 7, 2014 [a student-run site as part of the M.A. Arts & Culture concentration at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism]
After eight years of planning and fundraising, Mayor Michael Bloomberg just barely saved the World Trade Center Performing Arts Center project from taking a premature final bow. In December of 2011, Bloomberg appointed the first five members of the Performing Arts Center Board within days of a deadline to create the board or lose $155 million in funding from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. The inclusion of First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris on the board highlighted the mayor’s strong support of the project.
“It’s critical,” Julie Menin, then chairwoman of Community Board 1, said of the board appointments. “The PAC is a vital project for Lower Manhattan. It will create immediate construction jobs…and it will create economic revitalization for the area.”
The appointments came after years of uncertainty surrounding the PAC project, a part of the World Trade Center site’s original master plan. The creation of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, charged with raising money for the cultural buildings on the site, in 2004, and the revealing of designs by architect Frank Gehry in 2005 were both promising signs, but it took five more years for an official site for the center to even be chosen. All this time there remained issues over where exactly funding for the project, estimated to cost anywhere from $300 to $700 million, would come from. Bloomberg worked with Governor David Paterson and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to secure more capital from leftover federal funds held by the LMDC in 2010, despite the lack of a concrete timeline for the project.
“Our collective desire to put $100 million towards the development of the Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center site makes clear that the cultural venue is a critical part of the ongoing revitalization of Lower Manhattan,” said the mayor in an official statement.
More than two years after the creation of the PAC board and a month after Bloomberg’s departure from office, plans for the center remain unclear. Most of the parties involved in the project are reluctant to speculate what kind of support new mayor Bill de Blasio will give to the WTC PAC. While the new administration has no effect on the funding already in place, the center has likely lost a powerful player in its corner. As writer Michael Grynbaum noted in the New York Times last month, “the abrupt rise of Mr. de Blasio caught much of the city’s cultural establishment off guard and set off anxious speculation about what kind of artistic patron he might be as mayor.” With de Blasio’s real estate efforts focused on developing more affordable housing, the question is whether or not the new administration will be able to, let alone make time to, also attract the donors necessary to keep a perpetually suspended project like the WTC PAC alive.
Diana Switaj, director of planning and land use at Community Board 1, says that because the PAC is set to be constructed at the site of the temporary PATH terminal, the timeline is still fuzzy at best. She added that the “project is still in an early stage,” currently working to raise money and develop conceptual plans including a possible “24-7, inclusive facility.” With site development indefinitely on hold, the identity of the center still in flux, and “a brand new administration,” explained Switah, “we’ll have to wait to see how the de Blasio administration will affect the progress of the project.”
Maggie Boepple, director of the PAC, does not seem too concerned with the new administration—her sights are set on other obstacles.
“The only entity that can affect the timeline is the Port Authority,” says Boepple, “as we are building on their land and they need to get some things finished before we can start the above-ground building. We are working closely with them to design the seven stories below ground.”
Boepple added that she believes the new mayor “is very busy with far more important things than the PAC,” and that she does not anticipate hearing from him soon, although she has had “appropriate conversations with his team.” Boepple recently announced at a meeting with Community Board 1 that a new artistic team is reworking the center’s plans and that the budget would be less than originally estimated, although no names or exact numbers were given. With such mysterious plans and no tangible timeline, she may be needing the new mayor’s support sooner than she thinks.