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Charles J. Maikish has come full circle, back to Lower Manhattan, where he spent most of his real estate and construction career. Maikish, formerly EVP of JP Morgan Chase’s global real estate services practice, was recently appointed executive director of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, a role in which he oversees the rebuilding of Downtown. It’s an appropriate gig for a man who spearheaded the reconstruction of the World Trade Center after the 1993 bombing. At the time, Maikish was director of the World Trade Department of the Port Authority and engineered the massive feat of getting the 1.2-million-sf complex back on line. It’s not surprising then that Maikish would view the attacks of Sept. 11 through a uniquely personal and well-informed filter of experience. It is no less surprising that he would relish the opportunity to be a leading contributor to its revitalization. In a recent, exclusive interview, he looked back, and then ahead.

GlobeSt.com: What essentially is your role?

Maikish: The role is to lead the command center and facilitate the reconstruction of Lower Manhattan, to mitigate the impact of reconstruction on the community and to communicate ongoing information to the community.

GlobeSt.com: And what are the prime projects on your plate right now?

Maikish: The executive order that creates this function, which was signed by the mayor and the governor, gives us a geographic jurisdiction for everything south of Canal Street occurring between now and 2010. Of course, the focus by necessity has to be on the large projects.

GlobeSt.com: Such as?

Maikish: The transportation projects involve the transit center that’s being built on Fulton Street. Stairwells are currently being constructed along with some platforms and stations, and the street-level superstructure should commence after the first of the year. Then there’s the PATH hub, which connects all transportation along an east-west line. Also, the South Ferry terminal is being totally reconstructed and expanded, and on the horizon is the direct-rail access project to Kennedy Airport and the Long Island Rail Road extension.

GlobeSt.com: So you think the long-awaited 24/7 city is becoming a reality?

Maikish: It was on the verge of becoming a reality prior to Sept. 11. The Alliance for Downtown New York, Carl Weisbrod’s organization, was created just after the 1993 bombing, and the whole mission was the 24/7 community. There are barriers to achieving the Lower Manhattan we envision. The first is the lack of direct rail access, and that’s being addressed. The second has to deal with the lack of open space. It was at a premium, and the reconstruction gives us an opportunity to address that as well.

GlobeSt.com: Is that really essential to a 24/7 community?

Maikish: It creates a welcoming environment for visitors, for residential and for retail and culture. Although it was present in a much smaller scale, it wasn’t present to the extent we felt it needed to be. If you look at the master plan for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, it addresses the issue and does so quite well. Another barrier is Lower Manhattan’s traffic congestion.

GlobeSt.com: The World Trade Center itself was a major contributor to that, no?

Maikish: It was, but now the streets are being restored. The work that’s going to go on south of Liberty Street, for which the LMDC is currently creating a master plan, plus the creation of additional open space and reconfiguring that street grid will help a great deal. It will also connect Battery Park City in a more integrated way to the rest of Lower Manhattan.

GlobeSt.com: How long are we talking about, another 20 years, before the full vision is realized?

Maikish: I hope not. My mandate is to facilitate the construction and get it done. We’d like to see Lower Manhattan emerge by 2009 or 2010. Of course, certain projects, such as the redevelopment of the East River waterfront, will take longer, but the momentum will more than be achieved by then.

GlobeSt.com: Is it frustrating to you personally to see the lack of definite progress on the redesign of Ground Zero?

Maikish: Let me correct that impression. The master plan was done three or four years ago, and I often say that one day spent in planning avoids a month in construction. You’ve got to spend the time in design, planning and engineering to make sure it’s rational and constructible. You don’t want to go back and re-engineer. The irony of the redesign on Freedom Tower in my opinion is that revisiting the work that David Childs did has produced a much better product.

GlobeSt.com: So it works for you?

Maikish: The improvement is orders of magnitude over what we were looking at before.

GlobeSt.com: At the same time, it does seem to be a political football, and many people see Ground Zero as the rallying point for all of Downtown.

Maikish: That’s true. The governor has said that the Freedom Tower is iconic and it should be. Because of that, it does focus people’s attention and is a bit of a lightning rod. But that also emphasizes the fact that you got to get it right. As I said, there’s an evolutionary process here. It’s part of the normal design process for engineers to modify the conceptual design based on engineering concerns. Throughout the process, various disciplines are brought in in an orderly way.

GlobeSt.com: In the aftermath of the 1993 bombing, you told me in an interview that the essential problem is to build a building that was both secure and a transit hub, a tourist destination, an office building and a retail location. Today, how do you see that challenge?

Maikish: If we create an armed-fortress environment, the terrorists have won. Then, they’ve changed the quality and nature of our lives. There’s a delicate balance between adequate security and maintaining a free and open society.

GlobeSt.com: You also said at the time that on the day of the bombing, you needed to keep the lights on in the World Trade Center. Do you remember the conversation?

Maikish: I did. I didn’t want the lights to go out because I didn’t want to think the terrorists had succeeded.

GlobeSt.com: So what were your thoughts on Sept. 11?

Maikish: It was a nightmare. I couldn’t believe the towers had structurally collapsed. The thought that struck me was the statement made by Ramsey Yusef, the ringleader of the ’93 bombing. When he was sentenced, he told the judge that they didn’t bring it down this time but they would the next. I remember him saying it and saying there was no way they’d ever do it.

GlobeSt.com: It must be nice to be part of the solution.

Maikish: It’s more than a job.

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