USA Today | Rick Hampson
Fourteen Septembers after terrorists destroyed the nation’s greatest office complex and crippled its fourth-largest business district, the rebuilding of the World Trade Center and the revival of lower Manhattan continue – one office tenant, subway platform and sidewalk at a time.
“This is not the end,’’ Catherine McVay Hughes, chair of the community planning board, says of the recovery. “But it’s the beginning of the end.’’
Over the last 12 months, the troubled Trade Center building site has witnessed no major milestones, such as the dedication of the 9/11 Memorial (2011) or Museum (2013).
Instead, there’s been unspectacular, incremental, sometimes almost imperceptible progress. On the day the One World Trade Center office tower finally opened for business, for example, there was no ceremony – not even a speech by a politician claiming credit.
As construction fences and barriers come down, and sidewalks, streets, underground passages and bike lanes open up, the Trade Center “is finally being knit back into the fabric of lower Manhattan,’’ says Hughes, who’s lived in the district for 27 years and raised two sons there.
From the first hours after the 9/11 attacks, Americans and New Yorkers were determined to rebuild quickly at Ground Zero. But the task was impossibly complicated; the rail lines, utilities and foundations were an intricate 3-D puzzle; and a host of competing interests – including relatives of 9/11 victims – fought over the outcome, often to a standstill.
But since the last anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the first office workers have moved into One WTC, which at a symbolic 1,776 feet is the Western Hemisphere’s tallest building and the world’s third tallest. The tower’s top-floors observatory and restaurants also opened to the public.
And two key components of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire – News Corp. (which owns Fox News and the Wall Street Journal) and 21st Century Fox – announced plans to move from a Midtown skyscraper to anchor the fourth office tower that will rise at the Trade Center site.
Progress under the radar
But most advances have been less striking. They range from the installation of 1,000 pieces of bomb-resistant glass in the retractable skylight of the soaring “Oculus’’ pavilion in the bird-like Transit Hub, to planting trees in Liberty Park at the south end of the site.
Moreover, as construction begins to wind down, people can go places that were inaccessible (like the intersection of Greenwich and Fulton streets, obliterated in the 1960s by the original Trade Center super block) and see the previously invisible (the vista from the WTC PATH subway station mezzanine of the gleaming white marble train platforms).
Pedestrians also can enjoy the first partial public views inside the main hall of the Transit Hub, a space that rivals Grand Central Terminal’s in grandeur and exceeds it in size.
Some of the city’s worst pedestrian choke points – products of a confluence of construction and office workers, tourists and subway commuters – finally are easing. (The crush at Vesey and Church streets was nicknamed “Vesey Squeezy.’’)
For example, the opening of the sidewalk on the north side of Liberty Street, between Church and Greenwich streets, has cleared a pedestrian bottleneck produced by the opening of the memorial, museum and an office tower.
The fear of terrorism that once suffused the area has been assuaged by intense security and obscured by growing congestion.
On Sept. 11, 2001, about 20,000 people lived in lower Manhattan; in the months that followed, about 10,000 left. Today, the area’s population is 70,000 and rising. On Wednesday, in a sign of the times, Peck Slip public elementary school opened to accommodate the growing number of children.
Some fears linger. As recently as November, Chris Rock said in his Saturday Night Live monologue that One WTC, originally known as the Freedom Tower, should be called the “’Never Going in There Tower,’ because I’m never going in there.’’
But now people wait in line to visit the tower’s observation deck, despite the $32 tab. “They say this is the safest building in New York City,’’ says Shelly Murphy, visiting with her children from Birmingham, Ala. And she believes it.
That sense of security is costly, in dollars and inconvenience.
The entire site is under intense surveillance by local and federal anti-terrorism squads. Every delivery vehicle and bus entering the network of underground service roads will pass through the $700 million Vehicle Security Center, which has yet to open. Greenwich Street, the newly opened north-south route through the site, will be limited to pedestrians because of a fear of car bombs.
How to fill 10M square feet of office space
The Trade Center’s viability as an office location is still a matter of debate. Many of the tenants in the Twin Towers left downtown after 9/11, and few major tenants have been signed in recent months.
Five huge office towers were designed to replace the Twin Towers’ combined 10 million square feet of space. (For comparison, the Empire State Building is 1,250 feet high and has 2.8 million square feet of rentable space):
4 WTC (977’ high, 2.5 million sq. ft.) opened in 2013 and is 62% leased. The largest tenant is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the Trade Center site. This summer the building announced deals with several new tenants, including ones in communications, accounting and medical research.
1 WTC (1776’, 3 mill. sq. ft.) received its first office workers in November and opened its observation deck in May. The office space is 63% leased. Conde Nast publications occupies 25 floors (1 million square feet). Moody’s reportedly is negotiating a lease for about 80,000 square feet.
3 WTC (1079’, 2.5 mill sq. ft.), now under construction, should be finished in about three years. The largest committed tenant is GroupM, which has taken about 500,000 square feet.
2 WTC (1270’, 2.8 mill sq. ft.) is being redesigned by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels to accommodate the Murdoch companies, which have signed a letter of intent to rent the lower half of the 100-story building. Anticipated opening: 2020.
Business is better in the surrounding area. Directly west of the Trade Center, overlooking the Hudson River, space in the Brookfield Place office and retail complex (previously called the World Financial Center) is virtually all rented. The Associated Press, now headquartered west of Midtown, has announced plans to move there in 2017.
Two huge developments west of Midtown – Hudson Yards and Manhattan West – have signed several big tenants. A single law firm – Skadden Arps – is taking more than 500,000 square feet at Manhattan West.
Safest building, but most expensive
One of the Trade Center’s problems is cost. The average office rent in Lower Manhattan runs about $55 a square foot, substantially lower than Midtown. But rents in One WTC range from $70 to $100, depending on the floor. In part, that reflects the cost of construction. It may be the safest building in New York, but at $4 billion it is also the most expensive.
The Twin Towers, which were almost fully occupied by 2001, catered mostly to finance, insurance and real estate firms (FIRE). One WTC has had to rely mostly on firms in technology, advertising, media and information (hence the new acronym, TAMI).
But high vacancy in the nation’s tallest towers isn’t unusual. The Twin Towers and the Empire State Building took years to fill up; the latter, completed in 1931, was long known as “the Empty State Building.’’
No, it’s the Transit Hub, designed by Spanish “starcitect” Santiago Calatrava, that’s the site’s signature boondoggle.
When proposed in 2004, the project was supposed to cost less than $2 billion and open by 2009; it has now cost twice that much and taken twice that long. It still has not opened, and there is no firm date this year for when it will.
But Hughes, the planning board chair, says she’s confident Lower Manhattan – the original skyscraper city, which began to decline the day Grand Central opened in Midtown in 1913 – will continue to rise. And the time when the World Trade Center site seemed like the most cursed 16 acres in America finally will be forgotten.
Source: USA Today
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