Wednesday, July 2, 2008

NEW YORK | The World Trade Center’s owner announced a major design change to its multibillion-dollar transit hub Tuesday, a day after concluding that most projects at ground zero are behind schedule and over budget.

The winged dome designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava will no longer open and close when it is built, Christopher Ward, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said Tuesday.

The change is expected to shave hundreds of millions of dollars from the hub’s budget, which has fluctuated between $2.2 billion and $3.4 billion.

Mr. Calatrava had designed the retractable roof so that it would open each Sept. 11 at the time of the terrorist attacks that destroyed the trade center, shining a sliver of light down into the atrium. The architect’s office declined comment Tuesday.

“This is a tough choice, but it is the right choice,” Mr. Ward said at a downtown business breakfast.

Mr. Ward has cited the difficulties of building the transit hub among more than a dozen issues that have slowed rebuilding at the 16-acre site. Other problems include the behind-schedule dismantling of a condemned ground zero tower and the challenge of building several projects around a working city subway line.

The memorial to the 2001 terrorist attack will not open by its 10th anniversary, Mr. Ward said Monday.

He said a committee of developers and agencies would set new “clear and achievable” timelines by September. Plans to build five office towers, the $2 billion-plus transit hub, a Sept. 11 memorial and a performing arts center would be completed, he said, although “the question is when and for how much.”

Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, said later Monday that the Port Authority “will come back and alert us if they feel that perhaps the project is planned beyond our ability to perform.”

Under the most current estimates, the memorial would have been first to open on the site in 2011. Other projects were scheduled to open by 2013, although the performing arts center never had a construction plan.

The report ordered by Mr. Paterson - the third governor to push for speedy development of a 16-acre site where a temporary train station is the only completed project in seven years - suggested that the earliest projections, just after the attacks for rebuilding ground zero, weren’t truthful.

Mr. Ward called the estimates offered during Gov. George Pataki’s administration, “emotional dates.”

Mr. Paterson promised that in the future, “we will tell the truth every step of the way” about the project.

Mr. Pataki, a Republican, once predicted that steel for the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, the tallest skyscraper planned for the site, would be up by 2006. Steel has just risen above street level for the tower, most recently estimated to open in 2013.

“Did we set aggressive timetables? Absolutely,” Pataki spokesman David Catalfamo said Monday, adding that they were based on engineers’ estimates. “All the same people who are there now were there then.”

  • Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela contributed to this report.
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