Planned World Trade Center Performance Center Gets a Critical $1 Million

Left: Conceptual model of the performing arts center, to be designed by Frank Gehry. Right: LMDC chair Avi Schick, who introduced the new allocation for a vote of the LMDC board. "What we are here to do today is to move that $1 million dollars to the performing arts center so they can continue their work developing the program and plans," he told the board. Photos by Gehry Studio (model) and Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib (Schick)

The curtain just came closer to rising on the proposed World Trade Center Performing Arts Center on Thursday, when the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation voted to release $1 million to staff the next phase of planning.

“[This] means that we can continue our studies to really tightly inform us of the cost of the building,” Maggie Boepple, a veteran Albany lobbyist charged with planning the center, said after the vote. “You need that number before you can start publicly fundraising.”

The LMDC, formed after Sept. 11 to oversee federal revitalization funds for Lower Manhattan, voted in 2010 to allocate $100 million to the PAC ($1 million for staffing and development costs and $99 million towards construction). But until this week it had yet to release any of those funds for use.

Board chairman Avi Schick withdrew a proposal last September to release the funds because of continued uncertainty over where the rest of the funding for the Frank Gehry-designed center—most recently estimated to cost $450 million—would come from.

"Until we understand what it is really going to cost, and how we are going to pay for it, there is hesitancy to commit significant additional funds," LMDC President David Emil told the Trib in an interview in December.

Both Boepple and Schick declined to specify what, if anything, had changed since the September meeting.

“We have had a lot more discussions so that clearly had an effect,” Boepple said.

A final cost estimate for the center won’t be ready until more studies have been completed, said Boepple, who is one of two full-time employees at the PAC.

But in a December presentation to Community Board 1, Boepple said the PAC board had been working to reduce construction costs by eliminating such features as offices and classrooms.

“We have substantially down-scaled the building from when I got there, which was unsupportable,” she said at the time.

Although the behind the scenes negotiations that led up to the vote are vague, Boepple said she is clear about what she will do right away.

“The next step is for me to call Frank Gehry right now,” Boepple said with a grin, adding that she would tell him to, “Get going on the massing study ... That is the absolute next step.”

Community Board Chair Catherine McVay Hughes, a major supporter of the center, praised the funding vote as an important step moving forward. She was recently appointed to the LMDC board, but will not start serving on it until next month.

“It’s been long awaited,” McVay Hughes said of the funding.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver also lauded the decision, saying in a written statement that the PAC will be “a vibrant cultural center for our Downtown community.”

“I think everybody feels good about releasing this money and letting everybody continue their work,” Schick said.