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NEW YORK CITY-As the city looks to the future of Downtown two years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks several insiders point to improvements in infrastructure–and mainly transportation–as the key to the revival of Lower Manhattan.

“What are of the utmost importance are the transportation and the infrastructure,” says Shirley Jaffe, vice president of economic development for the Alliance for Downtown New York Inc. “We need to connect Lower Manhattan to the airports and we need to connect Lower Manhattan to commuter rail lines.”

This push is not new. According to Jaffe, this issue has been discussed for many years but now, with the rebuilding efforts under way, is the right time to address it. In addition, the funding is available to do it, she adds.

Things are moving in the right direction. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey opened the Exchange Place PATH station in Jersey City, NJ on June 29, restoring a crucial rail link in the area that was disrupted because of the events of Sept. 11. And, even more good news to Downtown, is the projected November opening date for the temporary World Trade Center PATH station.

“I have consistently said that to retain and attract tenants Downtown, with retention being of primary importance, the main issue will continue to be transportation,” says Bruce Mosler, president, US Operations at Cushman & Wakefield. “If you don’t distinguish between short-term and long-term objectives, and I emphasize the importance of focusing on the short-term, you make it harder to position Downtown as a viable option for major corporations making decisions today. The positive news is that key decision makers are beginning to demonstrate that this is understood.”

One of those objectives is the complete renovation of the Fulton Street subway station, he adds. “The new Fulton Street transit hub is an excellent example of a short-term objective that has the potential to dramatically improve the prospects of Downtown as a corporate headquarters location,” Mosler explains. “Coupled with larger, long-term objectives, such as the Second Avenue Subway, which would unite residents of Upper Manhattan with the Midtown and Downtown central business districts, all of Manhattan will benefit from a revitalized Lower Manhattan.”

Frank Cento, managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle, echoes these statements. “First and foremost is the continuation of improving the infrastructure,” he says. “You still can’t walk two blocks without seeing a street torn up.” Specifically, Cento points to Williams Street as a problem area because it bisects Downtown.

And the road work could have an effect on those companies looking to relocate to Lower Manhattan, he adds. “It is tough when prospective tenants consider Downtown to see the streets torn up,” Cento explains. “It doesn’t look like Midtown and it certainly doesn’t look like Downtown pre-9/11.”

However, transportation and infrastructure are not the only factors in the future revival of Lower Manhattan. Jaffe says it also needs something more to draw people to the area. “Residential development and population growth is naturally growing anyway,” she contends. “What we need are more cultural and entertainment institutions to make it more diverse.” For example, the area could use a jazz club or possibly museum exhibits. “We need to create a more lively environment to keep people Downtown and to draw people Downtown. We need to round out the neighborhood,” Jaffe adds.

In addition, Jaffe explains that government policy needs to emphasize that Downtown is a major business district–and that hasn’t changed.

Faith Consolo, vice chairman of Garrick-Aug Worldwide Ltd., also sees retail as a bright spot in the future of Downtown. “Things are looking up Downtown,” she says. “I feel the life blood is returning to the neighborhood.”

The tax incentives are in place, there is new residential development opening up and the financial district is still the third largest in the country, she says, and retail is doing well, but new deals need to be done. In the past two years, several retail outlet–including Nine West and Ann Taylor Loft–opened on lower Broadway and now former World Trade Center tenants who were reluctant to take street locations are starting to look in that direction, she adds.

Going forward, focus needs to be directed on the streetscape. Some work has already begun in this area, including placing new signs around Lower Manhattan, but the attention to the grid has to change, Consolo explains. “The excitement in retail is the street,” she says. “Sidewalks cannot be too wide and stores cannot be set too far back so the street has to flow.”

This attention to the streetscape, to the new trade center and to new retail is crucial to making it work, she adds. “Downtown is looking better than ever,” she contends. “The platform is set for a new Downtown.”

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