BY DOUGLAS FEIDEN and GREG B. SMITH
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
Sunday, September 28th 2008, 12:39 AM
The Port Authority plans to pay an engineering firm and its partners $374 million for design work on the World Trade Center Transportation Hub and five other Ground Zero projects, documents obtained by the Daily News show.
The bonanza for STV and partners comes with the projects years from completion, final design elements and price tags uncertain and nothing visible to passers-by but a vast pit west of Church St.
It also comes with questions about conflicts of interest. During the time STV was winning contracts from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, it was negotiating to buy an affiliate of a firm run by Anthony Sartor, the PA board member overseeing World Trade Center redevelopment.
Because of this, the commissioner in charge of rebuilding the 16-acre site was forced to repeatedly recuse himself from numerous votes regarding the mega project.
In August, STV wound up not buying Sartor's company. Nevertheless, during the time his firm was negotiating with STV Sartor attended an unusual meeting between the PA and STV to discuss the transportation hub - a project the PA predicts will net STV and partners a stunning $302 million.
That works out to $503 per square foot for a 600,000-square-foot transportation hub. In comparison, the architect hired to complete the 2.8 million-square-foot Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle got about $22.50 per square foot, sources said.
Besides the transportation hub, STV and partners were hired by the Port Authority to design an underground vehicle security center, WTC streets and infrastructure, and aspects of the performing arts center, the Freedom Tower and the September 11 Memorial.
The most expensive contract went to a joint venture, Downtown Design Partnership, to design the hub. DDP consists of STV, another engineering firm, DMJM Harris, and architect Santiago Calatrava.
The hub will connect multiple transit lines, including PATH trains and NYC Transit Authority subways, and features an extravagant winged entranceway. Its total costs have soared from $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion and may go higher.
In January, STV began negotiating to purchase a smaller engineering firm, Paulus, Sokolowski & Sartor, an affiliate of National Grid Energy Services. Sartor is CEO of Paulus and president of National Grid, although in a statement to The News he claims he hasn't had an equity stake in Paulus since 2000.
Sartor says he notified the Port Authority of STV's intentions to buy Paulus and began recusing himself from PA votes regarding STV's contracts.
In July, however, Sartor showed up at a meeting in the Park Ave. townhouse of the hub's architect, Calatrava, along with representatives of STV and other members of the Port Authority, according to a participant at the meeting.
The participant said the architect Calatrava did most of the talking and that he didn't recall Sartor speaking at the gathering.
"Commissioner Sartor acted prudently in this matter to eliminate both the appearance and any potential for a conflict of interest," said Sartor's spokesman, Timothy White.
Weeks after some aspects of STV's plans to buy Sartor's affiliate were disclosed in the New York Observer, the transaction was terminated.
Most of the payments to STV and partners were listed in Port Authority documents obtained by The News dated June that included "forecast at completion" costs. The estimates top all figures previously disclosed.
On Friday Port Authority officials insisted the estimates were not final, noting a specific list of costs and completion dates will be released this week.
"The forecast at completion numbers are pure speculation. We're in the middle of an assessment for the entire World Trade Center site, which we'll have out next week," said spokesman Steve Coleman.
The concentration of multiple contracts with one firm and its partners comes as the costs of all the multilayered Trade Center projects have ballooned and construction has fallen years behind schedule.