Security Concerns Push Back WTC Reconstruction Project

WASHINGTON -- The effort to raise a 1,776-foot Freedom Tower where the World Trade Center once stood is "losing steam," Sen. Charles Schumer told New York business leaders Tuesday.

"Let's stop twiddling our thumbs and get to work," Schumer, D-N.Y., told a Crain's business breakfast.

The senior senator also warned delays may jeopardize some $2 billion worth of federal tax incentives New York had hoped to win from Congress for the planned building of a rail link between Lower Manhattan and Kennedy Airport.

"Nearly four years after Sept. 11, we are losing steam," Schumer said, noting that the steel for the Freedom Tower has yet to be ordered.

"Unfortunately, a culture of inertia has infected downtown redevelopment and our city in general. ... Critics are given more weight than those trying to build," the senator said.

Schumer said he was not laying blame on the two leaders most involved, Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The lawmaker's criticism follows a number of developments that have thrown the rebuilding timetable into question.

The Freedom Tower cornerstone was laid July 4, 2004, but police concerns raised in an assessment given to developer Larry Silverstein last month have forced the architects to rethink elements of the structure, including its precise location on the 16-acre site.

The security concerns could push the planned 2009 opening back a year.

Bloomberg said Monday it would be better to delay the opening than to dismiss security concerns.

"In 1993 there was a bombing at the World Trade Center and we did not learn our lesson," Bloomberg said. "If we don't learn our lesson this time, shame on us."

Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, a Queens congressman, charged Tuesday that the Bloomberg administration has been distracted by its push for a West Side stadium for the city's 2012 Olympics bid, an accusation also made by Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

"It seems obvious that they took their eye off the ball with their obsession with the west side of Manhattan and the Olympics," said Weiner.

The mayor has defended the stadium project, which also would be home to New York Jets football team, as a matter of "J-O-B-S."

Also Tuesday, the governor refused to rule out invoking the seizure of property via the law of eminent domain if negotiations with Silverstein failed.

"It's clearly premature to be looking at and talking about that at this point," Pataki said. "You never rule anything out. ... We will do whatever it takes, but Larry's been a good cooperative partner and there's no reason, at this point, to believe that he won't continue to be," said Pataki.

The suggestion of using eminent domain came after the New York Times reported that Silverstein has proposed seeking public financing, possibly hundreds of millions of dollars, to address security.

Adding to the uncertainly, Lower Manhattan Development Corp. President Kevin Rampe, a close associate of Pataki who has been with the rebuilding agency since it was created in early 2002, announced Monday that he will leave at the end of the month. Rampe said his announcement was not related to the recent turmoil.

Associated Press Writer Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.