Volume 18 • Issue 38 | February 3 - 9, 2006

Talking Point

The mayor’s the problem, Silverstein’s the solution

By David Stanke

Mayor Bloomberg and his City Planning Department repeatedly criticize Larry Silverstein for delaying World Trade Center redevelopment. They simultaneously challenge the commercial viability of the site, undercutting business confidence. Against the contradictory and misleading rhetoric streaming from the mayor’s office stands a clear and confident symbol for the future of Lower Manhattan: World Trade Center 7, developed by Larry Silverstein.

There are two contrasting visions for Downtown following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. One was laid out very early by Silverstein. He saw a series of commercial towers re-establishing the W.T.C. as the center of the Financial District. Nearing retirement, he committed the rest of his life to this vision. While flexible on details, his core vision has never changed. In the uncertain times after 9/11, Silverstein’s determination generated confidence throughout Downtown.

This simple statement of the possible is embodied in W.T.C. 7. No steel has gone up to restore the other destroyed buildings. W.T.C. 7 is the private property of Silverstein Properties, not dependent on government for rebuilding. On the W.T.C. site proper, nothing can be built until the Port Authority prepares the site and releases it. Through failures of political will, it will be over a year before anything other than the Freedom Tower begins construction. The score at the W.T.C. is painfully clear: private enterprise 1, political process 0.

Mayor Bloomberg has chosen the 11th hour to press a different vision of Downtown, one of limited possibility. He forwards this agenda by undercutting progress. He repeatedly blames Silverstein for the delays, with no supporting evidence. Bloomberg’s mishandling of N.Y.P.D. security concerns delayed redesign of the Freedom Tower by more than six months. He undercut government assistance plans for W.T.C. 7 by publicly challenging the viability of the site. He has not devoted any Liberty Bonds to the W.T.C. site, reserving them for unstated pet projects with other developers. Now Bloomberg claims that he can accelerate progress by redrawing the plans, taking more government control, inserting new issues, and bringing in more developers. Instead, he is making every complication at the W.T.C. worse.

What is Bloomberg’s vision for Downtown? While he plans major public investments in a new, West Side commercial district, he claims Downtown needs less office space. He feels that the terrorist attacks destroyed the viability of the Financial District . . . forever. The only option is to build a peaceful residential district with parks, government offices and tourist facilities. Instead of large buildings on modern sized blocks, he wants to restore the 17th century street grid, designed for pedestrians and horses, 3-story buildings, and dirt roads. To Bloomberg, faster just means less.

While the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Port Authority are each building modern, expansive transportation hubs worthy of this nation’s third largest business district, Bloomberg vaguely spouts yesterday’s market statistics. While he plans for the relentless growth in Brooklyn and on the West Side, he can’t imagine the need for W.T.C. properties. And while the world moves forward, he is trying to send us backward. We continue to wait.

From City Hall, blocks away from W.T.C. 7, Bloomberg sits in his office swamped in contradictory and misleading statements driven by tired, rhetorical theories of architectural academics. He lacks the vision that created the Twin Towers and the vision to make them better. A retired entrepreneur, he now believes that bureaucrats make the best business decisions. To his eyes, W.T.C. 7 must seem like a mirage, inconsistent with his self-imposed limitations. To the rest of us, the message of W.T.C. 7 is clear: the World Trade Center can rise again! Which vision inspires you?

New York survives hard times by excelling. The American Revolution nearly failed on this island, but George Washington pulled his troops through a hard, New York winter to win the fight for independence. In the Depression, people leapt from buildings in despair, but others created the financial capital of the world. In the 1970’s, the city was crime-ridden and financially failing. Today, property values soar and the most depressed neighborhoods are being revitalized. Over the years, millions of people have come to New York to achieve “impossible” dreams in business, culture, and politics. New York does not face tough times by settling for safe solutions. New York creates big visions and makes them happen.

The W.T.C. is an early warning sign for the well being of America. We no longer ask “How can we do this?” but rather, “Why will this fail?” In the face of a terrorist attack on our homeland, everyone has an agenda and we bicker.

The tenants of W.T.C. 7 recognize a greater possibility. Asia is the new land of the possible, where skyscrapers spring from once stagnant cities. It is no surprise that a Chinese enterprise can look over the W.T.C. pit and see a new entry point to American business. Ameriprise, an offshoot of American Express, is a long time Downtown neighbor. Those here since 9/11/2001 recognize that determination can create a better city. The New York Academy of Sciences is dedicated to “finding new ways to think . . . [about] society and the world.”

Larry Silverstein has provided these firms with front row seats and lead roles in the revitalization of a downtown. He has reestablished Downtown as the gateway to America. He has demonstrated that determination can overcome disaster. In W.T.C. 7, he has created a new icon for Downtown, a crystal clear beacon that reflects its surroundings, but stands out above them.

David Stanke lives and writes in Downtown Manhattan. His e-mail is davestanke@ebond.com.


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