More Delays for Ground Zero Freedom Tower?

Construction continues on the Freedom Tower, right, Tuesday, July 15, 2009 in New York.
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
Nearly eight years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, construction continues on the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero. But a new report is warning that the project - already years behind schedule - could be delayed even further.

CBS Station WCBS correspondent Magee Hickey reports that the planned 1,776-foot soaring tower in the sky won't be finished until 2018 - 17 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In an exclusive report revealed in Tuesday's Daily News, the delay is cited in a confidential draft "risk analysis" prepared by the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, a government panel that reports to New York Governor David Paterson and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

According the report, delays are affecting not only the Freedom Tower but also the site's transportation hub, which also may not be ready until 2018.

The emotional centerpiece of the Ground Zero projects, the September 11 Memorial, could be two years behind its 2011 deadline.

The chief spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (the site's owner) strongly disputes the delay, reports Hickey, and said that they are on schedule to meet all the deadlines released last fall.

The possibility of yet another round of delays comes just as Governor Paterson gave developer Larry Silverstein an ultimatum in prolonged talks over Silverstein's lease to build three planned office towers, saying rebuilding at the 16-acre site could go ahead without him if necessary.

Silverstein, who held a 99-year lease on the World Trade Center site, retains development rights for the property.

Silverstein and the Port Authority have been at odds for months over how to pay for office towers at a time when there are no tenants on the horizon and no private financing available.

In a letter that outlined parts of old offers of partial financing for two of the towers, Paterson pressed the two sides to meet this week to work on resolving the dispute.

But the governor said he had told the site's owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to start drawing up new plans so the agency could finish rebuilding the Sept. 11 memorial and other public projects regardless whether Silverstein completes his buildings.

"This will ensure that, should you and the Port Authority not be able to reach an agreement, the site will no longer be subject to the fate of the real estate market or these negotiations," Paterson wrote.

Silverstein's camp expressed doubt that the governor's move would help, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration and state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said it would hurt.

"From the beginning, we've said both parties would have to compromise to avoid stalemate and further delays on the site," Bloomberg spokesman Andrew Brent said. "Unfortunately, today's proposal doesn't achieve that and would move us in the wrong direction."

The agency and Silverstein have negotiated for months - with Silverstein threatening to seek arbitration and interventions from top state lawmakers and meetings convened by Bloomberg going nowhere.

Silverstein has asked the Port Authority to guarantee more than $3 billion in financing to build two of his planned towers. He has been unable to obtain private financing in the tight real estate
market and has said the agency has delayed his construction schedule by falling behind on projects - including a vast, winged transit hub designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava - that surround his.

Janno Lieber, who heads trade center construction for Silverstein, echoed those complaints Monday. He said Paterson's "ideas will not likely put us on a path" to building the two towers.

The agency has agreed to back one tower currently under construction and put up some money for a second tower, but only if Silverstein comes up with more than $600 million first.

The Port Authority has said that putting up more for the private venture would siphon money from other key projects, such as improvements to LaGuardia Airport and a new rail tunnel serving Pennsylvania Station.

The towers and the agency's projects are intertwined through underground utility infrastructure, as well as a vehicle security center, train tracks and streets that would connect the office towers and the memorial.