Volume 21, Number 51 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 8 - 14, 2009
Build the W.T.C. now — recessions don’t last for decades
By Dave Stanke
It was never going to be easy. The challenges were overwhelming. Rebuilding the World Trade Center required dedication to a vision. It would require the best of execution. Most of all, it required a commitment to possibilities and the willingness to take risks. The effort to rebuild the W.T.C. was the manifestation of the human struggle to overcome despair.
Now the Port Authority has flinched. Vast sums have been spent but progress is lacking. Silverstein still has the vision and has demonstrated the ability to execute. But with the deep national recession, teetering banks will not risk the capital needed to complete the job. If the Port Authority doesn’t agree to backstop Silverstein’s financing to get the full W.T.C. built, Downtown will have failed, and all of the 9/11 recovery rhetoric will be exposed as meaningless.
In response to a terrorist attack that destroyed 10 million square feet of commercial real estate, a transportation center, a hugely profitable retail center, and the center of Downtown Manhattan; the Port Authority has commissioned a study of office space demand. The Cushman & Wakefield study predicts a dire future for the city. The Port has exchanged vision for excuses. The report is not rational; it is a rationalization for weakness and mistakes.
The Port’s 30-year forecast for the W.T.C. is blatantly biased in support of Cushman’s and the Port’s narrow self interest. In their view, W.T.C. Tower 1 (a k a Freedom Tower) will lease up twice as fast as Silverstein’s more marketable Tower 2. C & W does not project the start of construction on Tower 3 until a year after Tower 2 is full. This would leave five years with no available office space at the site! They believe that the city can add just three office buildings over four business cycles. Cushman and Wakefield should consider downsizing itself, not the W.T.C.
A year ago, everyone was looking for ways to expand commercial real estate for a growing economic base. Cushman, real estate developers, City Hall, corporations, newspaper owners — every major player in the city — was desperate to develop. Now, just a year later, we don’t need new office buildings for 30 years? The mayor and many others project a recovery starting in a year or so.
When a business wants to take a direction, they commission a study with a predetermined result. This study is a rationalization for controversial decisions and a distraction from past mistakes. The Port Authority doesn’t want to support Silverstein in the rebuilding of the W.T.C. They paid Cushman & Wakefield to cover themselves.
I have supported the Port Authority’s efforts to expand transportation and retail for Downtown. In the post 9/11 recession, Downtown was abandoned by businesses and residents. The need for expansion was not obvious. The proverbial 9/11 family activists opposed Path train expansion because it would cover a few of the “historic” Twin Tower column footings. On their own project, the Port Authority went forward with the expansion.
I joined fellow community members to challenge decisions that have cost the Port (and the public) hundreds of millions of dollars. The size and placement of the memorial have consumed vast areas of W.T.C. infrastructure, forcing investment in a completely new bathtub. The Port is still struggling with technical hurdles to clear the new bathtub . . . and is still paying. Why, after years of fiscal irresponsibility, are they suddenly pulling back now?
Despite the Port’s negative prognosis, it has numerous plans to expand transportation into the city. In the midst of a serious recession, every one of their transportation projects could be postponed. If we don’t need the commercial center Downtown, why do we need expanded transportation?
The Port Authority’s capital plan says “the New York-New Jersey region is experiencing remarkable growth. By 2020, our region will be home to 1.6 million more residents, 1.4 million more jobs, and a $500 billion increase in its Gross Regional Product.” This 2007 to 2016 capital budget anticipates $29 billion of investments, including $8.4 billion on the W.T.C. and Path Hub.
If the C&W negative prognosis has any validity, the Port should take a hatchet to its budget. The Port should cancel all expenditures on the Path hub.
If the full plan moves forward, it will be a smashing success. Silverstein has executed on every one of his projects. Seven W.T.C. is evidence of that. He got 1 W.T.C. going despite numerous hurdles and redesigns. Now progress has slowed with the Port at the helm. From philosophical, business and urban planning perspectives, we need to build out the W.T.C. A completed W.T.C. will enhance everything on site and around it. Further delays, redesigns, and scaling back will put a ball and chain around the future of Downtown.
Dave Stanke lives and writes Downtown. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter.