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September 18, 2014
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Proposal Would Relocate Arts Center to Transit Hub

New York Times

New York State's top economic-development official has proposed moving the performing arts center planned for the former World Trade Center site and building it atop a vast subway station planned for downtown at Fulton Street and Broadway.

The official, Avi Schick, chief executive of the Empire State Development Corporation, said his proposal was at this point only "an idea or a concept."

But it has prompted concerns from the Joyce Theater, which in principle is to occupy the performing arts center; from downtown business groups; and from the architecture firm that designed the Fulton Street Transit Center.

Mr. Schick, who is also chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, said that by combining the performing arts center with the Fulton Street Transit Center, the state and city could save money and time.

Kate D. Levin, the city's cultural affairs commissioner, said the city would consider the matter. "The state asked us to take a look at this, so we've agreed to a quick 30-day examination of that," she said. "I need to see what we come up with."

Moving the performing arts center would amount to yet another significant change in the original master plan for ground zero. The proposal could well signal yet another power struggle between the city and the state over downtown redevelopment.

Both the transit center and the performing arts center have been plagued by fund-raising hurdles and delays. In January the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it might have to scrap plans for the station altogether because of $1 billion in cost overruns for the authority's expansion projects over all.

Fund-raising has not even begun on the performing arts center, which is to be designed by Frank Gehry. The project has been postponed pending the construction of a PATH station, designed by Santiago Calatrava, because the future Joyce site will be occupied by a temporary train exit until the station is completed.

Linda Shelton, executive director of the Joyce Theater, said she was wary of the proposal. "We have to look at any possibility, but we are still committed to being part of redevelopment at the World Trade Center site," she said. "The reason we were selected in the first place still stands: to be part of a performing arts center that was going to activate and animate the area."

Placing the theater atop the transit hub would also mean eliminating the glass dome designed for the station by Grimshaw Architects, James Carpenter Design Associates and the engineering firm Arup. The dome, which is called an oculus, has already been diminished since its original 2004 incarnation because of budget constraints.

Initially designed to be 50 feet high - taking the building's total height to about 100 feet - it was scaled back to 20 feet in 2006 and to about 10 feet in 2007. Building on top of the station would cut off the light that the glass was designed to bring into it.

Elizabeth H. Berger, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, a business group, said she was dismayed by Mr. Schick's proposal. "We want what was promised - which was an architecturally distinctive, above-ground transit hub with retail - and we want it built now," she said. "To change the design and the purpose of the building will cause substantial delays."

Ms. Berger said the station's function as a "commercial crossroads" would make the site problematic for a performing arts center. (The Fulton Street Transit Center would essentially replace six existing Lower Manhattan subway stations, incorporating 12 subway lines.)

"You have 250,000 people coming in and out of that station every day, and it will be 300,000 after the connectors are built," she said. Ms. Berger added that it would be difficult for trucks carrying scenery or remote broadcasting equipment to navigate the surrounding side streets, which are narrow.

The Transportation Authority said in a statement: "The M.T.A. continues to evaluate options for the above-ground portion of the Fulton Street Transit Center. We are aware of the proposal, which the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation is reviewing."

Mr. Schick said the new station he envisions would preserve the transit hub's program and simply add a 1,000-seat theater on top. "If the M.T.A. can build what it has promised, that would be best." Mr. Schick said. "It's certainly an unbelievable location on top of 12 subway lines and on the corner of Fulton and Broadway."

If part of the ground zero plan, the performing arts center stood to get funds from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Mr. Schick said it would still receive that aid in the new location. "We're not looking to diminish our support," he said.

Mr. Schick has been president of the Empire State Development Corporation since 2007 and became acting chief executive of the corporation in March, after Patrick J. Foye resigned as co-chairman.

Andrew Whalley, director of the New York office of Grimshaw, said the proposal raises serious questions.

"Transportation infrastructure makes lots of noise and vibration," he said. "A performing arts center requires a certain amount of acoustical isolation. They're not natural bedfellows."