A Conversation With Tara Snow

On Wednesday February 12, Gotham Gazette held an online chat with Tara Snow, who coordinates public and government participation for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

Gotham Gazette:
Welcome everyone, and thanks for coming. Today we are talking to Tara Snow, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation Vice President for Community Affairs and Government Relations.

GG:
Good afternoon, Ms. Snow.

Tara Snow:
Good afternoon.

GG:
Ms. Snow, you are Vice President for Community and Government Affairs at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Can you explain your responsibilities?

Snow:
My responsibilities include all aspects of government and community relations for the agency. More specifically, I am responsible for working with community groups, our advisory councils and other organizations as we move forward the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan and the creation of a fitting memorial. I am also responsible for ensuring the public has a voice in our efforts, both for the memorial and the planning for the World Trade Center site and surrounding areas.

GG:
On February 4, your organization named two finalists to design the World Trade Center site, Daniel Libeskind and the Think team. Since announcing the finalists, have you seen any preference for either design in comments sent to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s website?

Snow:
The public continues to provide us with valuable input. This input, along with the input we have received since the release of the initial nine design concepts, will continue to play an important role as we move forward with the analysis of the plans. Many individuals have expressed a preference for each of the plans, and different aspects of the plans.

GG:
In selecting the finalists, how did the development corporation and the selection committee take into account public input and input from victims family advisory boards and others?

Snow:
More than 2/3 of the comments received on the Innovative Design Study were exclusively on the site plans or elements of the site plans. This provided valuable information to both the LMDC and the Port Authority regarding specific preferences on plans and elements. In those comments, Think World Cultural Center and Studio Daniel Libeskind received tremendous support and attention. We regularly provided our planners with updates on the public comment and analysis.

We also made a concerted effort to be sure that the families of those who lost loved ones on September 11th were informed of our process. The LMDC sent a mailing out to over 3000 families to invite their active participation and comment.

GG:
Chris asks, "we have seen the plans for the redevelopment, have any plans been made for the actual memorial or memorials? How do we give our input into the actual memorial design?"

Snow:
The location(s) for the memorial will be defined through the site planning process. The design of the memorial will be determined through an International Design Competition which is scheduled to be launched in the spring. We encourage you to check our website at www.renewnyc.com to receive further updates on this very important effort. You can sign up for our regular e-update there.

GG:
Jill A. Pall asks, "What are your thoughts in regard to different family members and concerned citizens feeling that their voice was not heard at the public hearings last month because two of the locations that were to host the live simulcast were not made public until 1 the day of the meeting? Therefore, the Long Island and Brooklyn locations only had a few people attend them...."

Snow:
Thank you for your question. We undertook an aggressive media campaign where we placed advertisements in all the major newspapers letting the public know the public hearing schedules and locations. We also posted the locations in advance on our website and made sure that the information was in community calendars and newspapers throughout the New York City and Long Island area.

GG:
Diane Horning asks, "Are you really seriously considering building a bus depot where the majority of body parts were found? Why can't you understand what that entire "bathtub" area means? If that's inconvenient, so be it. We have all been "inconvenienced", haven't we?"

Snow:
We are aware that millions of individuals worldwide will come to visit the World Trade Center memorial each year. It is important to full examine all of the various ways of ensuring adequate transportation for these visitors. The LMDC and the Port Authority are evaluating many transportation options as we move forward to an appropriate single plan to ensure the best possible transportation for not only the visitors but the tens of thousands of individuals who work in Lower Manhattan and commute here every day.

GG:
Dennis Boyd asks, "Who is coordinating to ensure that whatever ultimate design is accepted for the World Trade Center site will be fully accessible for people with all kinds of disabilities and to accessibility of the entire site, including links to local transportation and public thoroughfares?"

Snow:
Accessibility to the site is extremely important. It has and continues to be a priority as we move through the planning process. As a matter of fact, it was included as part of our Principles and Preliminary Blueprint for the Future of Lower Manhattan, a document we created early on in our process, and which serves as guide. That document is also available on our website -- please read it for more details.

GG:
Josh’s Mom asks, "I am still concerned that building BIGGER is not better without a clear rescue and evacuation plan in place. There obviously was no rescue plan that could possibly be effective in place previously."

Snow:
Safety and security is of paramount concern. As part of the Innovative Design Study program -- which was the basis for the architects work -- we stipulated that security measures should be part of the overall vision in site designs.

GG:
Chris asks, "How does the international competition for the memorial design work? Who is it open to?"

Snow:
As I mentioned previously, the International Design Competition is scheduled to launch in the spring. The details of the competition are still being developed, and once again we encourage you to visit our website which will contain important updates on the memorial competition.

GG:
Vic Sums asks, "Will the memorial be created first before ground breaking of the new buildings?"

Snow:
The LMDC and the Port Authority's main priority is to build the memorial, the transportation infrastructure and the public realm. These are the top priority.

GG:
Jill A. Pall asks, "Do you agree that the memorial must be designed first and then development can be fit in?"

Snow:
As I just mentioned, the creation of a fitting memorial is our top priority, once we have an overall land use plan for the site, which will be by the end of February. This will allow us to define an area(s) for the memorial to be included in the guidelines for the competition, so we can create something magnificent to those who were lost on September 11th.

GG:
When the memorial competition begins later this year, how will victims family members, residents and others influence the choice of a memorial design?

Snow:
The LMDC is committed to engaging the public in a meaningful dialogue to help us plan the future of Lower Manhattan. This commitment will continue throughout the memorial process. We will continue to look for ways to ensure that everyone's voice is heard.

GG:
World Trade Center lease holder Larry Silverstein told the Daily News this week that proceeds from 9/11 insurance settlements can only be used to build office towers. He has also said that he does not approve of the two design finalists. How much say does Silverstein have in the rebuilding process?

Snow:
The LMDC and the Port Authority continue to meet with Mr. Silverstein to ensure his involvement in the process.

GG:
Yes, but if he refuses to cooperate, what ultimately can the authorities do? What is their legal authority?

Snow:
The goal is to continue working together to arrive at a single plan for the site.

GG:
Does Silverstein have the authority to block the plans?

Snow:
We have every indication that Mr. Silverstein will continue to work with the LMDC and the Port Authority.

GG:
Chris asks, "What is the possibility of the Port Authority turning over the property to the city?"

Snow:
We understand there has been much discussion about a possible land swap, and the conversations are continuing.

GG:
A recent New York Times article reported that the state’s top economic development official, Charles A. Gargano, and development corporation board member Roland Betts have very different ideas about Ground Zero’s future. While Gargano said that he doesn’t believe either of the two finalist designs will be built, Betts said he is "determined to be fatherly" about making sure one of the designs is built. Which of these two scenarios will really happen?

Snow:
Over the past year the LMDC has engaged the public in a meaningful and extensive dialogue, never seen by a government agency previously. The public has had a tremendous effect on the direction the planning process has taken. Our goal is to arrive at a single plan at the end of February and once again invite the public to continue providing us with valuable feedback as they have done in the past. Together, we will create a fitting memorial and rebuild the World Trade Center site that we can all be proud of for future generations.

GG:
Jonathan asks, "Some might ask how the public can trust the LMDC when they do not answer a straightforward question like: What authority does Larry Silverstein have?"

Snow:
Mr. Silverstein has a lease with the Port Authority, which is an important legal component, however is just one element of planning for the future of our city.

GG:
How do Roland Betts and Charles Gargano's roles fit into the planning?

Snow:
Roland is a valuable member of the LMDC board, who also headed up the site planning committee for the board. Chairman Gargano is the chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation -- a very important partner in this process.

GG:
Jill A. Pall asks, "Gargano agrees with the Coalition that the memorial must be designed first. Why doesn't the LMDC believe this?"

Snow:
In order to design the memorial you must identify a site for the memorial. Once this has been accomplished, we will move ahead thoughtfully, and with purpose, to build a lasting memorial.

GG:
Last question: Last month’s public hearings on the World Trade Center site and the memorial were set up for people to speak about their concerns; Lower Manhattan Development Corporation officials listened, but did not respond to them during the forum. What is the best way for people to ask you or other development corporation officials questions if they want a specific answer?

Snow:
Early on after LMDC was formed we created nine Advisory Councils consisting of family members, residents, business owners (both large and small, and representatives from arts, cultural and education organizations, as well as others. These Councils provide LMDC with insights and information on issues of concern. LMDC also presents at Community Board meetings and other civic meetings regularly. We encourage you to check our website and attend any of these meetings that are open to the public.

GG:
Thanks for coming today, Ms. Snow.

Snow:
Thank you for taking the time to participate in this chat.


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