Downtown will rise again. It always does
By Larry A. Silverstein
Just as Downtown was enjoying its strongest period of economic development and progress since the attacks of Sept. 11th, Wall St. found itself at the center of the financial hurricane of 2008. Lower Manhattan’s confidence has been shaken for the moment as Merrill Lynch, A.I.G. and the Dow Jones Industrial Average have all taken a hit over the past few months. In times like these — when the economic future of our city, our state and our nation seems less than secure — it is easy to succumb to fear, doubt and cynicism.
It is important, however, to remember back to the period immediately following 9/11 and the dot-com bust — when Downtown lost 50,000 jobs, millions of square feet of office space sat vacant and many so-called experts had written Downtown off for good. Back then, we did not let the prevailing pessimism deter us from the conviction we had about this neighborhood’s future. Nor did we forget the realities of the city’s long-term economic needs.
Lower Manhattan ultimately weathered the worst circumstances any urban center could ever experience. Companies and residents that left the area moved back in record numbers and were joined by a new wave of residents and businesses. The neighborhood’s economy diversified and grew, attracting innovative and creative companies from a wide range of industries. Downtown became a stronger, more diverse, more vibrant and more durable mixed-use community. The people who live and work in this neighborhood are smart — they believed in Downtown, they bet on its future and they were right.
In 2000 Sen. Schumer released his Group of 35 Report, which estimated that the city needed a minimum of 60 million square feet of new office space in the next 25 years just to retain existing office jobs, much less provide space for new ones.
New York needed new office buildings eight years ago — even before tens of millions of feet were lost to the 9/11 attacks and the wave of conversions of older offices to apartment buildings. From 1969 to 1989, Manhattan added almost 100 million square feet of office space — a 36 percent increase. But in the 19 years since, we’ve added only 7 million feet, an increase of under 2 percent. And meanwhile, the city’s office stock is getting older, which makes it less attractive to first class companies who want state-of-the-art technology and environmental standards.
Our economy is becoming more and more dependent on high-value-added white collar jobs, which in turn require modern office space — for reasons of technology, productivity and recruiting competitiveness. But for a lot of reasons, we’re not really providing anything like the amount needed.
If you add to this the million new residents that Mayor Bloomberg’s 2030 plan projects will be living and working in the city over the next 25 years, it becomes pretty clear why I’m so confident that the space we’re building at the World Trade Center site, as well as all the other office development activity in the rest of the city, will be needed and easily absorbed.
And keep in mind that, through development booms and bust, New York City’s economy has always absorbed every inch of office space that has been constructed. There is no reason to expect this time to be any different.
Along with 7 World Trade Center, the three office towers Silverstein Properties is building on Greenwich St. will be places of great architecture and green design (Image, page, 19). They will be part of an enlightened urban development that will also include a tribute to the innocent lives lost on 9/11, a grand gateway to Lower Manhattan, a center for performing arts, and the main street of a new Downtown.
By building now, even if demand for offices either Downtown or anywhere else in the city softens temporarily, we will be ready when the New York and U.S. economies rebound. And have no doubt — they will. They always do. With 55 years in the business, I’ve lived and worked through many of these cycles.
Building great office towers at a time like this is also the smartest economic decision we could make. It will serve as an economic stimulus as thousands of New Yorkers will be put to work right now, and it will create the capacity for the new jobs that will be created tomorrow.
Downtown continues to evolve and reinvent itself. Five years from now, it will be something else altogether. A resurgent Lower Manhattan economy anchored by a 21st century global business hub at the World Trade Center will merge with a first-class walk-to-work residential, hotel and tourist community to create a new Downtown.
We’ll have half a million square feet of first-class, destination-quality retail at the base of each of these buildings. Add to this the memorial park, which will be a splendid 8.5-acre destination for 10 million visitors a year. The mass transit system will also be superior. This will be a real center — in every way — for New York City, and a model for cities all over the world.
We cannot let the current turmoil on Wall St. roll back the successes and strides the district has made in the last seven years. The World Trade Center plan we are currently building — envisioned as a thriving, dynamic business hub at the heart of a revitalized global financial center — is the right plan for Downtown and for New York.
Larry A. Silverstein is the president and C.E.O. of Silverstein Properties, which is developing the World Trade Center site.