By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Con Edison and downtown community leaders faced off over a $200 million pot of 9/11 rebuilding money at a public hearing Wednesday afternoon, with the utility threatening to raise its rates unless it gets some of the money.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. likely won’t decide the fate of the money for several months, but Councilwoman Margaret Chin's hearing gave both sides a chance to make their case.
John Banks, Con Edison's vice president of government relations, argued that although Con Ed has already received $164 million from the LMDC in reconstruction funds, the company deserves an additional $186 million to pay for utility work done after 9/11.
"If we do not receive reimbursement…rate payers will have to bear that burden," Banks said. "We do not think it is fair to burden our customers with costs associated with the attack."
Each customer would have to pay about $50 to compensate Con Ed for the work, which mostly involved moving utilities out of the way so that city street could be reconstructed in the wake of 9/11.
Julie Menin, an LMDC board member and chairwoman of Community Board 1, has been saying for months that Con Ed has already received plenty of money, and the funds ought to go to more pressing needs downtown.
Menin continued her advocacy at Wednesday’s hearing, and she also said the LMDC should immediately release a smaller $18 million fund that is earmarked for downtown cultural groups. The entire LMDC board has to decide on the usage of the fund before it can be distributed.
More than a dozen of the groups waiting on that money attended the hearing to beg the LMDC to release it soon, and to ask for their share of the $200 million too.
"It is unconscionable that the money is there and these organizations are suffering," said Jonathan Hollander, artistic director of the Battery Dance Company.
In addition to giving lower Manhattan a vibrant cultural life, nonprofit arts groups drive traffic to small businesses and employ thousands of people, Hollander said.
Lisa Ecklund-Flores, founder of the Church Street School for Music and Art, said her 20-year-old organization is $1 million in debt and desperately needs an infusion of cash. She urged politicians to remember that the Church Street School hung on after 9/11, when its enrollment dropped 75 percent.
"Please don’t lose sight of the post-9/11 pioneers," Ecklund-Flores said. "We made the choice to join in the revitalization…and now we’re hanging on by a thread.