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NEW YORK CITY-Far from putting Lower Manhattan’s future on the back burner amid the financial crisis, the Wall Street meltdown underscores the importance of planning and acting today for Downtown’s future. That’s one of the key messages in “Downtown 2020,” a report issued Tuesday by Baruch College’s Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute.

“To reach its full potential by 2020, Downtown needs investment now, both public and private,” Jack Nyman, director of the institute, tells GlobeSt.com. He says there needs to be investment in Lower Manhattan’s transportation infrastructure and in new residential and commercial space, as well as improving the area’s appearance and functional amenities. The result of carrying out a long-term vision for Downtown could be “one of the nation’s great urban jewels,” according to the report.

“We feel the highest priority is to complete the World Trade Center sites, and given long lead times, we recommend to start building now,” Nyman says. Large-scale commercial projects “can’t be flicked on like a light switch” in response to an upsurge in demand, he adds, but must be built in anticipation of future needs. In fact, the report calls for six million square feet of new office space Downtown above and beyond what the WTC development will produce.

The report was prepared by a team that includes representatives from Baruch, New York University and private companies including Real Capital Analytics, Grubb & Ellis and Sam Schwartz Engineering. It discusses six principles that its authors believe are essential to Lower Manhattan’s future. They include: reinforcing the area’s “historic urban structure” and building a sustainable future for Downtown; creating new housing units to address population and household growth; creating new class A office and retail space; connecting Downtown to the region and world via transportation links; emphasizing Lower Manhattan’s origins and maximizing “access to the water’s edge”; and creating a 24/7 environment that emphasizes education and culture as well as entertainment.

Nyman tells GlobeSt.com the report was initially completed late last year, days before the mid-September collapse of Lehman Brothers and other financial institutions. Nonetheless, he says, its recommendations remain as valid as before. An addendum to the report incorporates more recent data, but Nyman says its title, “Going Long on NYC,” makes the point that the trends which play to New York City’s strengths transcend the trough of a cycle or financial crisis.

Nyman and other study authors presented a panel discussion on Tuesday at 7 World Trade Center. Along with the authors, participants in the discussion included Larry Silverstein, president of Silverstein Properties Inc. and developer of the World Trade Center; Elizabeth Berger, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York; and Avi Schick, chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.

Nyman says the discussion and report were “very well received” by an audience that included business and government representatives as well as the general public, but points out that the report is not meant to be definitive. “We intended it to add to the debate” about Downtown’s future, he says.

He acknowledges that the city in general and Downtown in particular face challenges, yet notes that these will be overcome. “New York City is the center of a national and global financial and credit crisis,” Nyman says. “Projected employment declines will reach 200,000 to 270,000, but we predict a rebound to a full recovery that will gather momentum into the coming decade.”

Downtown faces “a lack of credit and constrained Wall Street bonuses retarding real estate investment and consumer spending,” Nyman adds. “The short-term paralysis could delay the timeline of residential and non-residential space absorption, but only until 2011 or 2012. To access the report, click here.

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