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World Trade Center rises from the ashes in New York

A tribute to memory and commerce 13 years after the cataclysm of 9/11, building at the World Trade Center site is set to be completed next year. But the project has not been without its hitches.
1 World Trade Center, is viewed from the 62nd floor of Four World Trade Center in New York. Mark Lennihan / AP Photo
1 World Trade Center, is viewed from the 62nd floor of Four World Trade Center in New York. Mark Lennihan / AP Photo

Anthony Gardner had sworn off high floors of skyscrapers until his guides on a tour of New York’s 1 World Trade Center offered to take people to the 83rd storey. That is the same floor his brother, Harvey Gardner III, was on 13 years ago when the first plane hit the site’s North Tower.

“That was a sign that I needed to go up there, and I was so glad and grateful that I did,” said Mr Gardner, 38, who left a public relations career after his brother’s death in the September 11, 2001, attacks to work on behalf of victims’ families.

The World Trade Center site’s integration of memory with commerce creates “a very powerful experience for visitors while also contributing to the economic revitalisation of lower Manhattan,” said Mr Gardner, now the executive director of the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. “You’re really seeing that take form now today.”

Building at the 16-acre trade centre site is set to be substantially completed in the next year, following delays, litigation, disputes and power plays among a cast of stakeholders that included political officials, residents, architects and advocates such as Mr Gardner, survivors of the almost 3,000 people lost in the cataclysm. As construction nears a culmination, lower Manhattan is standing out for its revival.

Office leasing is accelerating, with media and technology companies joining the financial firms that traditionally inhabited the area, and the population has surged. With the 9/11 memorial and museum now fully open, and two office towers, a transit hub and retail centre to be done by late next year, people are finally going to get to live and work in the vision of a new downtown forged more than a decade ago.

The area is on the verge of becoming “the first modern commercial district to emerge in New York City in over a generation”, said Tom Wright, the executive director of the Regional Plan Association, which advocates progressive urban planning. “It’s going to be really remarkable.”

Lower Manhattan office asking rents have climbed almost 30 per cent from a 2010 low. Vacancy rates are down after companies such as Time and Bank of New York Mellon reached deals to move to the Brookfield Place complex.

The residential population more than doubled in the decade through the end of 2013, according to the Alliance for Downtown New York. An additional 2,200 apartments are slated to be completed by 2017, as developers including Larry Silverstein, Stephen Witkoff and Michael Shvo plan luxury high-rise condominiums.

The downtown alliance, an advocacy group for Lower Manhattan, estimates that $30 billion has been invested in the area in the past decade, at both the trade centre site and in projects elsewhere. Those include 12 new hotels, an esplanade along the East River and residential conversions including American International Group’s former skyscraper at 70 Pine Street, which is becoming an apartment building.

“This is not your father’s financial district any more,” Jessica Lappin, the alliance’s president, said at a briefing for reporters this week at 4 World Trade Center. “We do not close up the sidewalks at the sound of the closing bell.”

At the trade centre site, two skyscrapers are substantially done, although more than a third of their combined office space is unrented. The $3.95bn, 541-metre 1 World Trade Center, the western hemisphere’s tallest building, is scheduled to open before the end of this year.

Its lead tenant, the magazine publisher Condé Nast Publications, which will occupy 1.2 million of its 3 million square feet, is moving equipment into the tower, said Eric Engelhardt, the building’s leasing director for the Durst Organization, the partner in the skyscraper with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the trade centre site’s owner.

Four World Trade Center, a 2.3 million sq ft tower, opened late last year. The Port Authority will make the building its headquarters by the end of the year, and the city’s Human Resources Administration plans to move to the property by early 2015. Mr Silverstein, who leased the twin towers for 99 years just six weeks before their destruction, holds development rights to that and two other skyscrapers planned for the site.

“We are clearly at the precipice of people viewing this as done or almost done,” said Scott Rechler, who as vice chairman of the Port Authority has been managing the agency’s oversight of the redevelopment of the World Trade Center area.

In a study two years ago, the authority estimated a $14.8bn cost for its trade centre projects, which do not include Mr Silverstein’s skyscrapers. Mr Rechler said that those projects are coming in below their budgets and ahead of the schedules that were revised in 2012 to reflect the delays and cost increases that had occurred. He did not give figures.

Major causes for delays included a redesign of 1 World Trade Center ordered in 2005 after the New York Police Department said the building, then known as the Freedom Tower, could not be protected from a truck bomb. Mr Silverstein and a syndicate of insurers battled in court for about six years before reaching a settlement in 2007. The credit crisis of 2008 and 2009 hampered financing of office construction. The memorial museum was held up as rebuilding officials and the foundation overseeing it argued over costs.

“Of course, we all wish we could have gotten it done a lot faster,” Mr Silverstein, 83, said at this week’s briefing. “But that does not diminish the pride we all should feel.”

The 9/11 Memorial Museum was dedicated in May by families, survivors and rescue workers, along with the US president Barack Obama. During a visit last week, people could be seen taking photos of themselves around the two square pools that approximate the locations of the destroyed towers.

Still to come are a vehicle security centre and an underground passageway that will serve the delivery needs of the office towers. A centre one block east of the site that will serve 11 city subway lines is opening this year, according to the state assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, while a Santiago Calatrava-designed transportation hub will connect users of the authority’s Path trains to New Jersey with the downtown transportation network.

At $3.75bn, it is the costliest subway station in history, and its price tag has been questioned by newspaper editorials and public officials, including Mr Rechler.

“I don’t think I would have thought that necessary,” had he been among the decisionmakers when the project was conceived in 2004, Mr Rechler said in an interview. Officials put the cost at $2bn at a presentation of Calatrava’s design that year.

Mr Rechler said the authority would recoup about $1.6bn of the costs from Westfield, which agreed to pay that amount for control of the 350,000 sq ft of stores that will be connected with the transit hub. The Sydney-based mall company either has secured or is close to securing an Apple store, clothier Turnbull & Asser and upscale fashion merchant Michael Kors as tenants, among many others, The Wall Street Journal reported in June. Molly Morse, a Westfield spokeswoman, declined to comment on the tenants.

The only project currently under way that should still be in construction after 2015 is 3 World Trade Center, subject of a $1.5bn Liberty Bond sale. That offering should happen next month or in November, said Janno Lieber, the president of Mr Silverstein’s trade centre unit.

Three World Trade has only one signed tenant, the advertising firm GroupM, leaving about 80 per cent of its 2.5 million sq ft unrented.

“Three World Trade Center will lease up in the normal course,” Mr Lieber said. “We don’t have to make any additional leases before the financing goes forward. There are real users and real tenants who are in discussions.”

Since May, Durst signed Servcorp, an executive office space provider, and the ad agency KiDS Creative to full-floor leases at 1 World Trade. It also reached a deal last week with Cushman & Wakefield, the leasing broker for the tower, for about 10,200 sq ft.

The leases brought the tower to almost 58 per cent occupancy. At 4 World Trade, Mr Silverstein in July signed MediaMath to a 106,000 sq ft lease, the building’s first non-government tenant. Combined, about 2 million of the 5.3 million sq ft at the two skyscrapers is still available.

“In the current market climate it is a challenge to rent a new building to multiple tenants,” said Joseph Harbert, president of the eastern region for brokerage Colliers International. “The basic rule of real estate is that eventually almost all space rents at some price. So in the long run, 2 million feet of new construction will be absorbed.”

Beyond the towers under construction, 2 World Trade Center, which is built up to street level, is awaiting an anchor tenant before Mr Silverstein can proceed. There is also a site for a fifth skyscraper just south of the 16 acres, where Deutsche Bank had a tower that was damaged beyond repair in the attack.

Mr Gardner, who wrote a message to his brother on one of the beams of 1 World Trade Center during his visit, said he is finally getting comfortable with the site’s twin purposes of remembrance and commerce.

After waging a public campaign for the preservation of the twin tower’s box-column footings 70ft below the street, he got his wish. The footings, which mark off the massive squares which once jutted more than 1,300ft into the sky, were left visible, as was a section of the “slurry wall,” a 65ft section of the retaining wall that withstood the disaster.

Mr Gardner said 1 World Trade Center is visible from his town of Verona, New Jersey, a suburb that is about a 32-kilometre drive from lower Manhattan.

“It’s a comfort for me to see it there,” he said.


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Updated: September 11, 2014 04:00 AM



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