progress reportordered

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"The original completion dates are just not going to be met,"Christopher Ward, the Port Authority's executive director, told hisaudience at Tuesday's breakfast meeting sponsored by theDowntown-Lower Manhattan Association. Until 15 fundamental issuesraised in yesterday's report are resolved, he said, "coming up withanother set of dates would not be appropriate."

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Ward cited the enormity and complexity of the rebuilding—whichthe authority is overseeing—currently under way on 16 acres atGround Zero. It includes five skyscrapers, with three beingdeveloped by Silverstein Properties; the Fulton Street TransitCenter, now projected to cost $1 billion more than originallyestimated; a new PATH station; a WTC memorial; an extensive retailcomponent; and a vehicle screening area.

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"There's no question that the World Trade Center is the mostchallenging rebuilding project in the city's history, and the mostchallenging project in the 87-year history of the Port Authority,"he said, adding that the question was not whether the rebuildingwould be completed, but how long it would take and how much itwould end up costing.

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Given the sheer magnitude of the multiple projects, he said, theoriginal projections of schedules and costs were "not realistic"and too often were "driven by emotional and political needs."However, Ward said, "This is a construction project now. Thepolitics is over," and added that his job was not to place blame,but to bring the rebuilding to "a point of focus andaccountability."

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A major component of doing so, said Ward, will be bringingtogether a steering committee that represents all of the majorstakeholders in the rebuilding. This approach drew an enthusiasticif cautionary response from the Alliance for Downtown New York, thesister organization of the DLMA.

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"Chris Ward has taken an important first step in identifying andacknowledging the problems," says Elizabeth Berger, president ofthe Downtown Alliance, in a statement. "Rather than play a blamegame, he has opened the doors and invited the principalstakeholders in to plan the future together. The next steps will betougher. Ward and his steering committee must make decisions thatwill not compromise the original vision for the site, though theywill almost certainly alter the details, starting with thetimetable."

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Ward explained that progress is being made on each phase of themulti-pronged project, and promised a new timetable by summer'send. He added that one priority will be to look at how the towerscan be built "smarter, faster and for potentially less money." Tothat end, the authority is "looking candidly" at the procurementand construction process on the project.

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Touching on one of the most emotionally loaded aspects of thedelays in the rebuilding process, Ward acknowledged that the WTCmemorial would not be completed by Sept. 11, 2011, the 10thanniversary of 9/11. He said, however, that the memorial site wouldbe ready for an "appropriate" ceremony by that date.

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At a news conference following the breakfast, Ward pointed outthat another major development project Downtown—Battery ParkCity—needed more than 25 years to reach fruition. One of theproblems with the originally projected WTC completion dates, hesaid, is that they were allowed to drive the discussion of how muchprogress is actually being made at Ground Zero.

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Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny is managing editor of Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com. He has been reporting on business since 1988 and on commercial real estate since 2007. He is based at ALM Real Estate Media Group's offices in New York City.