The Real Deal New York

Port Authority’s scandalous real estate investments: OPINION

Track record shows agency doesn't belong in the property business, writes NYT's Nocera
April 22, 2014 02:25PM

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s real scandal isn’t The Lane-closing on the George Washington Bridge — it is a decades-long practice of diverting the body’s funds into real estate investments, according to New York Times columnist Joe Nocera.

The Port Authority, Nocera wrote yesterday, is charged with improving transportation infrastructure in both states. Yet tolls creep up while needed funds are funneled into real estate projects like the World Trade Center, which claimed at least $7.7 billion in the rebuilding of the area around Ground Zero after Sept. 11. An additional $4 billion “went to an over-the-top PATH station,” Nocera opined, while another $3.3 billion went to the building of One World Trade Center.

“Whether or not building commercial skyscrapers was the right way to rebuild Ground Zero, what can be said for sure is that the Port Authority has shown, yet again, that it doesn’t belong in the real estate business,” Nocera wrote. One World Trade center, he added, is the “most expensive high-rise ever built in America, and it is costing Port Authority a fortune.” And yet only 55 percent of the property’s 2.6 million square feet have been leased, “and most of that is at significant loss,” Nocera wrote.

His arguments then circle back to Silverstein Properties’ current push for an additional $1.2 billion in loans to build 3 World Trade Center, which Nocera referred to as Silverstein’s “funder of last resort.”

The debate surrounding the potential loan is unusual, according to Nocera, who wrote that in the past commissioners typically voted unanimously to approve such ventures. But now, with a glut of empty office space in the area, the market is projecting the message that this is not the time for another commercial skyscraper downtown.

“If, after that, Silverstein gets his loan guarantees, well, there will finally be no doubt that a scandal has taken place,” Nocera wrote. [NYT]Julie Strickland