Ground zero traffic cop
Command center will oversee worker transport, other logistics as construction starts at WTC site
By Anne Michaud
Published on September 26, 2005
The rebuilding of Ground Zero is about to begin. Over the next five years, the $10 billion effort will require as many as 15,000 workers and more than 200,000 trucks of concrete. Some 45 different public agencies, developers, contractors and utilities will participate.
It's up to Charles Maikish to make sure that all the pieces come together and that lower Manhattan isn't paralyzed in the process. He concedes that the logistical challenges are keeping him up at night.
"We know what the problems are, and that's the first step," says Mr. Maikish. "Now, we have to engineer answers."
Mr. Maikish is executive director of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, a little-known agency authorized by Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to oversee the rebuilding of parts of downtown south of Canal Street that were devastated on Sept. 11, 2001. Some people are already predicting that the command center could become yet another ineffective layer of bureaucracy in the politically charged and emotional resurrection of downtown.
The numerous public and private projects getting under way represent the biggest concentration of construction activity ever attempted in three city blocks.
Workers are clearing ground now for the Santiago Calatrava-designed PATH station. By next March, 20 projects--including the World Trade Center Memorial, the Freedom Tower and demolition of the Deutsche Bank building--will be in progress.
Mr. Maikish, an engineer and lawyer by training who worked on the original World Trade Center construction, is already shaping a solution to one of the biggest hurdles: how to move massive numbers of workers in and out of such a tiny spot every day. The answer might be to create staging areas for workers in New Jersey or on Staten Island and carry them in by bus or ferry. Another traffic snarl could be created by cement trucks. His solution is to build micro-batching plants to mix concrete to order on site, rather than trucking it in.
Even before the major construction has begun, preliminary work has left residents and businesses weary. Even small, daily headaches interfere with people's routines and lives. Delivery trucks, copier repair services and cable installers avoid the neighborhood, where Rector Street has been excavated three times and Maiden Lane twice.
"A great deal of frustration has arisen over the fact that we often don't know from day to day whether the street in front of the building is going to be dug up again, or for how many more weeks those trucks will be idling outside our windows," says Joni Yoswein, a lobbyist whose firm is located one block from Ground Zero.
Not only must Mr. Maikish keep streets passable, he must also monitor the air for construction dust, manage noise levels and halt heavy work at a decent hour. He has already pulled two work permits over such issues.
At the same time, city and state officials are desperately marketing the new buildings. Developer Larry Silverstein is scrambling for tenants for his 7 World Trade Center, just outside Ground Zero, despite a package of government-subsidized incentives that make the rent as much as $40 per-square-foot lower than midtown rents.
Insiders worry that Mr. Maikish's job does not carry enough direct authority to mediate among the various parties. He answers not only to Mr. Bloomberg, who is poised to win re-election, but also to a lame-duck governor who leaves office at the end of next year.
"Sure, he might be able to get cooperation, but it's not the same as being able to say, `Get it done or you're fired,' " says one insider.
Devoted to the cause
Mr. Maikish is going to have to rely to some extent on his force of will and his background. In his previous job, he was executive vice president of the global real estate business at J.P. Morgan Chase.
His personal history is intimately tied to the World Trade Center. As a director with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, he was running the facility when it was bombed in February 1993. He lost 48 friends and colleagues on Sept. 11.
There's an intense devotion to the rebuilding, he says. "I wouldn't say it's just patriotism," he says. "It goes to the question of overcoming the adversity that was imposed upon us and showing that we can succeed beyond the recovery, succeed and build something even better."
©2005 Crain Communications Inc.