Ground Zero Arts Center to Shrink Further

Robin Pogrebin, New York Times

THE Performing Arts Center planned for the former World Trade Center site was dealt a serious blow on Thursday when the corporation in charge of downtown redevelopment insisted that the project come in at no more than $200 million — about half the original estimated cost.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which oversees the former World Trade Center site, made it clear at a board meeting that the $99 million in federal funds committed to the project was contingent on the arts center’s leaders’ producing an affordable design and a viable plan for raising the remaining money from private sources.

The site, now occupied by a temporary PATH station, is to be the home of the Performing Arts Center.  Michael Appleton for The New York Times

The site, now occupied by a temporary PATH station, is to be the home of the Performing Arts Center.  Michael Appleton for The New York Times

The ultimatum is another setback for a project conceived more than a decade ago as an important cultural hub to help rejuvenate an area once known as ground zero. The arts center — which originally was to contain the Signature Theater and the Joyce Theater — has been curtailed and delayed.

“After a review of finances, we believe the project should be scaled down,” said David Emil, president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, adding, “We are looking forward to seeing whether this can be brought to a successful conclusion.”

Maggie Boepple, president of the Performing Arts Center, having been prepared for this development, sounded undeterred at the meeting, saying she already had renderings of a scaled-down design by a new architect.

“We can do a great building for $200 million — it has to be built,” she said. “It will be smaller; there may be things that you might have liked to see, but that’s how it is.”

Ms. Boepple also told the corporation that the arts center was starting to raise money, though later she said she was not ready to announce donor commitments.

The cultural landscape has changed since the announcement in 2003 of Daniel Libeskind’s master plan for ground zero. The arts center, which was initially to have three stages, one with 1,000 seats — would still be only the second large space of its kind in the financial district, along with the Schimmel Center at Pace University.

But two other major venues in Manhattan have recently been announced. One is Culture Shed, a $400 million performance and exhibition space underway in Hudson Yards. The other is the $130 million park on Pier 55 near 14th Street, underwritten by the billionaire Barry Diller, which includes three outdoor stages.

Work on the center cannot begin until its site — bounded by Fulton, Greenwich, Vesey and Washington Streets — is made available. It is occupied by a temporary PATH station.

Ms. Boepple did not identify the new architect at the meeting but said later that one had been selected in a competition.

“In my bag is already the second reiteration for this new building,” she told the board. “We will be done in eight weeks.”

Last fall, the arts center leaders unexpectedly shelved Frank Gehry’s original design — a cascade of rectangular forms, like boxes piled atop one another.

Even with a reduced budget, the building would still have three stages — and occupy the same footprint — though it would not be as tall, Ms. Boepple said.

“Our building will be beautiful, because it has to be,” she said. “It will be starkly simple and meaningful.”

The project has gone from the home of four cultural organizations to a dance center to a multidisciplinary space. At one point, there was suggestion of moving it off ground zero to the nearby site Deutsche Bank building site, and if the arts center scaled-back proposal fails to satisfy the development corporation, the project could ultimately be replaced by something else.

The center also now has a construction project manager: David Belt of DBI Projects, Ms. Boepple said. Last year, the center hired David Lan, the artistic director of the Young Vic theatre in London, as its temporary artistic director (Ms. Boepple said he has been spending one week a month in New York); Lucy Sexton as the associate artistic director; and David Langford as the general manager and chief operating officer.

The center has so far been operating with a very small board, but Ms. Boepple said she was adding new members — most recently Susan Stroman, the director and choreographer, and Dominic Casserley, chairman of Willis Group, an insurance broker. She said she had also added Jenny Gersten — formerly of Williamstown Theater Festival and the High Line — as producer.

The development corporation on Thursday awarded an additional $70,000 for the project’s planning design and development; it has already budgeted a separate $40 million for construction below ground.

Joseph Chan, the development corporation’s chairman, said his board would work over the next two months to help the center solidify a more modest proposal and define “the private sector fund-raising plan.”

Ms. Boepple said she was optimistic about obtaining donations. “There’s plenty of money around,” she said.

Construction costs for cultural buildings can vary widely. The Studio Museum in Harlem recently announced plans to build an entire new home for $122 million, while the cost to renovate the interior of Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center is projected to reach $500 million.

Mr. Chan said the center would report on its progress at the corporation’s next meeting in the fall.

Thomas S. Johnson, a corporation board member who lost a son in the September 11 attacks, said at the meeting that $200 million “is a very large amount of money, especially when you realize it’s being put into a building that is on free land.”

Judy Rapfogel, the longtime chief of staff for the New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said of the center, “This has been a promise to us.” She added, “I look forward to putting a shovel in the ground.”

In the interview, Ms. Boepple said she was discouraged but felt she had no choice but to adjust to the more circumscribed budget.

“This was the only way to get this done,” she said. “I want to get this done.”

A version of this article appears in print on July 24, 2015, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Ground Zero Arts Center to Shrink Further


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