World Trade Center deal between Port Authority, Silverstein hits a wall

World Trade Center deal between Port Authority, Silverstein hits a wall

By Douglas Feiden
Daily News Staff Writer

An ugly $300,000-a-day feud erupted Tuesday between the Port Authority and developer Larry Silverstein over the rebuilding of Ground Zero, the Daily News has learned.

The bistate agency claimed it had turned over "construction-ready" land at the site on Sunday to the builder to construct two enormous office towers - and no longer has to shell out late fees totaling $2.1 million a week.

Not true, says Silverstein. The plot hasn't been fully excavated and he can't start building Towers 2 and 4, the developer insists.

"It is unfortunate that the PA has failed to live up to its obligations," said Janno Lieber, president of World Trade Center Properties, the Silverstein company that is building three skyscrapers on the 16-acre site.

Noting that PA Executive Director Chris Ward had left a steel-and-timber retaining wall smack dab in the middle of the site, Silverstein executive Dara McQuillan joked, "Mr. Ward, tear down this wall."

The battle broke out just five days after the PA pledged a "new era of accountability" and unveiled what it dubbed a "clear-eyed report" on milestones, budgets and timetables for construction at Ground Zero.

Hanging in the balance is the fate of Tower 2, a 79-story, 1,270foot skyscraper on Church St. that will be taller than the Empire State Building, and Tower 4, a 64-story giant a block south that will become the PA's headquarters.

The agency was supposed to turn over clean, buildable land for the buildings to Silverstein by last June 30. It missed its deadline to finish the excavation work, triggering the $300,000-a-day penalties.

After 98 days, that put the PA on the hook for $29.4 million in fines, and because it had blown another deadline by 48 days to turn over a nearby site earlier this year, the agency had to fork over another $14.4 million.

The total tab, paid by bridge-and-tunnel users and PATH train commuters, comes to $43.8 million.

Late Monday, the PA declared the penalty phase over, insisting the agency had met its "turnover requirements" and had handed off the parcel as of Sunday.

Lieber said Silverstein wasn't told until yesterday. "We're confused," Lieber said.

Silverstein says he can't build his foundations with the retaining wall and other construction obstacles on the site.

"This is a reasonable disagreement with our partner over details related to the turnover, and we look forward to resolving those differences," said Stephen Sigmund, the PA's chief spokesman.

Silverstein isn't waiting: His execs say they will press their case before an independent three-member arbitration panel - a move that could further delay building at the Trade Center site.