Volume 17 • Issue 6 | July 2 - 8, 2004

Freedom Tower opponents ready for a fight

By Josh Rogers

It’ll either be the beginning of the beginning or the beginning of the end when a cornerstone is laid for the Freedom Tower on Independence Day.

Some see the start of construction of the first tower on the World Trade Center site as an important milestone three years after Lower Manhattan was left with a destroyed place where almost 2,800 people were killed. “The healing of the skyline,” is the way Carl Weisbrod, who represents Lower Manhattan businesses as president of the Downtown Alliance, described building a new tower.

To those who dislike the new W.T.C. plan for emotional, environmental or aesthetic reasons, the ceremony this Sunday represents another step in the wrong direction. Several groups opposing the plan have been in discussions and are considering filing a lawsuit to stop it.

They include relatives of 9/11 victims concerned that things like the Twin Towers’ footprints will not be properly preserved, environmental groups who think the plan would result in too much pollution during construction and includes too much office space, and groups that favor rebuilding a modern version of the two towers.

Jonathan Hakala, who expects to see the towers rebuilt, said the Freedom Tower will never become a reality either because the environmental impact statement will not survive a lawsuit or because Larry Silverstein, the project developer, will run out of money.

“It will lose in litigation,” said Hakala. “I am convinced of it.”

Hakala, who had a small financial firm on the 77th floor of 1 W.T.C., thinks a new developer would have the same problem of not being able to attract a tenant for the Freedom Tower. He said if the Port Authority and Lower Manhattan Development Corp. had a worldwide auction for office space in new Twin Towers with better fire and safety provisions, the offices would be rented out years before the towers are built.

“If there is not the demand then I will sit down and shut up,” Hakala said. He favors a new twin tower design by architects Herbert Belton and Kenneth Gardner.

Steve Coleman, a spokesperson for the Port Authority, which owns the site, said Silverstein has enough money to build the first tower, although the authority is not yet satisfied with Silverstein’s plan to build the other four offices.

“There are still talks underway but there is enough money to build the Freedom Tower,” he said. Since 9/11, Silverstein has spent about $1.48 billion in W.T.C. leasing fees and legal expenses, Coleman said.

Silverstein has said repeatedly that he is committed to rebuilding the trade center office space and expects to secure enough money with insurance payments and tax-free Liberty Bonds. “We still have $2 billion in capital in the bank,” he told reporters in May after Gov. George Pataki announced that the $1.6 billion tower would begin to go up on July 4.

W.T.C. site plan architect Daniel Libeskind had the original idea of a 1,776-foot skyscraper to mark the year of America’s independence. Libeskind proposed gardens on the upper floors instead of offices and an antennae spire in honor of the Statue of Liberty torch. Silverstein’s architect, David Childs, consulted with Libeskind and changed the plan replacing the gardens with electricity-generating wind turbines on the top. Pataki, who was the driving force behind the Libeskind-Childs collaboration, also named the Freedom Tower. Childs changed the shape of the building but kept the symbolic height and spire

Coleman said starting next week, “there will be continuous work from now until there is occupancy in the building in late ’08.” He said after the first stone is laid at the southeast corner of the building site, 20 tiebacks to protect a slurry wall will be installed beginning on Tuesday. He said parts of the parking lot at 6 W.T.C. will be preserved and it will be ready to be demolished by mid-August, he said.

That’s what concerns Anthony Gardner, whose brother was killed in the W.T.C. He said officials are rushing ahead without fulfilling their obligations to preserve the historical elements of the site.

“We want the revitalization to move forward, we just want to be sure the physical area of the footprints is not destroyed in the process,” said Gardner, a leader of the Coalition of 9/11 Families.
He said if the project is delayed it will be because officials try to take shortcuts. Gardner said he has consulted with other groups and attorneys about possible litigation but no decision is imminent.

Weisbrod, the Alliance’s president, said Lower Manhattan will continue on the road to recovery with the beginning of construction.

“To see the first commercial activity on the World Trade Center site and its restoration as an engine that drives the nation and the world’s economy is exciting,” he said.

Suzanne Mattei, who heads the Sierra Club’s New York City office, said her concern is that officials will be reluctant to pause construction if air monitors indicate the activity is causing pollution levels to get too high.

“In any construction project there needs to be an expressed commitment to stop and fix things if problems develop,” she said. “Any time there is a project with political involvement, it’s very hard to stop the forward motion when something goes wrong.”

Diane Dreyfus, an urban planner who lives Downtown, agreed. “You’re building in the heart of a business district that has a lot of exposed residents,” she said. “Ideally you’d furlough the residents and work only at night.”


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