World Trade Center Talks Break Down

The war of words between state officials and the World Trade Center site developer has raised questions about what will be built on ground zero and when.

Officials on Wednesday walked away from talks with developer Larry Silverstein, saying he had put his own interests ahead of the public's and presented an unacceptable offer just 20 minutes before a midnight Tuesday deadline.

Silverstein held the $3.2 billion lease on the World Trade Center complex before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

He said he was shocked when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the trade center site, ended talks ordered by Gov. George Pataki to renegotiate his lease.

"It is inexcusable that the Port Authority abruptly abandoned the talks (Tuesday) night without a plan to move forward," Silverstein said. "We are not sure where this leaves us now."

He said he was still prepared to begin building the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower next month — provided he receives $3.35 billion in tax-exempt bonds meant for the site.

But Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg put a hold on the bonds pending a resolution of the negotiations.

Pataki, who has sought to make rebuilding ground zero the centerpiece of his legacy in his last year of office, said that Silverstein's development company "has betrayed the public's trust and that of all New Yorkers."

Bloomberg urged Silverstein Properties "to temper its individual interests and focus on what's best for New York City."

Silverstein has become a lightning rod for criticism about the rebuilding of ground zero amid fears from city and state officials that he could run out of money before finishing the job. Silverstein wants to build five towers at the trade center site, but officials say he will be out of money after one or two.

Kenneth Ringler, executive director of the Port Authority, said that talks with Silverstein had been "terminated," although he said he would look at reasonable proposals.

"We're not going to sit down with them," Ringler said. "We're not going to be held hostage at this site."

In negotiations Tuesday, the agency offered to take over construction of the Freedom Tower, seen as one of the least lucrative towers to rent because of its potential as a terrorist target and its distance from a mass transit hub.

It also proposed to build one other tower and leave Silverstein in charge of three smaller office buildings planned at the site. But Silverstein asked for too many financial concessions in return, officials said.