Downtown Debacle: What’s Going RightJul 07, 2008
New office buildings are good for New York. Even empty new office buildings are good, because history proves they won’t stay empty for long.
This bedrock truth provides more than a glimmer of hope for World Trade Center reconstruction. It should orient Gov. Paterson and Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward as they struggle to free Downtown’s big hole from its status as America’s most depressing tourist attraction.
The commercial skyscrapers being built by the PA and Larry Silverstein are the real news out of Ground Zero – not that you’d know it from lazy media coverage. Pore through Ward’s laundry list of unresolved issues last week – most, such as the need to demolish 130 Liberty St., already ancient history – and a surprising fact emerges:
Unless Ward is hiding something, the office towers aren’t in bad shape at all, though they’re long overdue and subject to design alterations.
Now, Ward was hiding something – the fact that the PA is trying to unload the Freedom Tower onto a private developer, as The Post first reported and as the PA tacitly confirmed to Bloomberg News when it acknowledged that “all options are on the table.”
But privatizing the Freedom Tower would only be good news. Better still, all four Ground Zero office towers have taken on an irreversible momentum likely to shoulder aside the “whuddum I gonna do?” whining that bedevils the rest of the 16-acre site.
The Freedom Tower looks to have passed the point of no return. Steel is out of the ground, the PA has awarded over $500 million in contracts and hardly a week passes without one supplier or another crowing over a new contract.
Silverstein, meanwhile, has already awarded more than $1 billion in trade contracts for his towers – including for foundations, curtain walls, elevators and mechanical and electrical trades. He’ll award $1 billion over the summer and excavation is well underway for the foundations of towers 3 and 4.
So, what of Ward’s doom and gloom? Most of his 15 crisis points involve non-commercial elements of Ground Zero and environs – elements, moreover, that are ill-conceived, unnecessary and/or unlikely to be built as planned in any event.
The issues Ward cited emphasize the too-big memorial; the Santiago Calatrava-designed PATH terminal (a PA ego trip to benefit a few Jersey commuters), and a pointless performing-arts center.
Off-site dilemmas include reopening the Cortlandt Street subway station, which is more the MTA’s problem, and the need for a land-swap deal with St. Nicholas Church (where a tiny congregation has been allowed to hold up the PA’s need to perform infrastructure work essential to all of Ground Zero.)
Only three of Ward’s handwringers could affect the office buildings, and one – a possible redesign of Tower 3 to accommodate a new home for Merrill Lynch – is likely moot, since Merrill grows wobblier by the week.
Despite Ground Zero’s notorious “game of inches,” neither of Ward’s two other worries is likely to prove more than a speed bump in the towers’ way. Yes, removing the temporary PATH terminal on Vesey Street could interfere with underground access to the Freedom Tower. And there is a need to reinforce the No. 1 subway line tunnel, which is close to the foundations for towers 3 and 4.
But I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that, once the towers are topping off at a cost of billions of dollars in public and private money, the next-door nuisances will manage to solve themselves. At least let’s hope so, because the office buildings, not the memorial, are the site’s true centerpiece – despite all the politically expedient blathering to the contrary.
Some real-estate developers and brokers fear a “glut” of new office space, but the city has anything but a glut of the kind of space provided by the new towers.
Much of the city’s vast office stock is obsolescent or obsolete. Office tenants now demand floor-to-ceiling windows, column-free floors, advanced fiber-optic capacity and environmental benefits – features available in a mere handful of Manhattan buildings.
The new WTC skyscrapers, designed by Sir Norman Foster, David Childs, Richard Rogers and Fumihiko Maki, have all that and more. They will also restore and improve upon a skyline that hasn’t been the same since 9/11.
Only the Freedom Tower will reach the height of the old WTC, but they’re all enormous, and the composite effect will be breathtaking. Paterson and Ward must see to it that nothing gets in their way.