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Rebuilding the World Trade Center Site

As shown on the map on page 173, the World Trade Center site is next to Battery Park City. Its redesign and rebuilding after 9/11 has been a very complex process, but a great deal has been achieved.

The transportation infrastructure under the site has been totally restored, the memorial plaza has been completed, and the signature building, the 1,776-foot-high Freedom Tower (1 World Trade Center), has been completed and as of early 2014 was more than half leased out. Another office tower (7 World Trade Center) was completed several years ago and is fully leased. A third tower (9 World Trade Center) was finished in 2013 and at the time of writing is in the leasing process. Two other towers (3 and 5 World Trade Center) are partially built.

From the beginning to the present, the redevelopment of the site has been bedeviled not only by disagreement about issues of architecture and symbolism, but also by serious issues of law, financial feasibility, and questions about what path the overall development of lower Manhattan should take. One major legal issue was a question of liability. About two months before 9/11, New York real estate developer Larry Silverstein had leased the site, including the World Trade Center Towers, from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for a period of 99 years. He insured the towers for $3.5 billion per event. The legal question after 9/11 turned on the meaning of the word event. Was the attack on the Towers one event or two events? Silverstein, of course, argued that it was two events. Equally predictably, the insurance companies argued that it was one event. Ultimately, the courts found for the insurance companies. That decision left Silverstein with $3.5 billion less to invest in the site than he would otherwise have had.

The decision to build so much commercial floor space in lower Manhattan has occasioned considerable argument. In the last several decades the rate of office construction in Manhattan has slowed. In the 1960s and 1970s Manhattan added approximately 60 million square feet of office space per decade. In the decade 2000 to 2010 somewhat under 20 million square feet of office space was added. In the first part of this decade office construction, with the exception of the World Trade Center site, has been slow. The apparent weakness in demand makes investors wary.

In fact, just to make the Freedom Tower commercially feasible, the Port Authority, after prolonged negotiations with Silverstein, agreed to lease 600,000 square feet in the tower at $59 per square foot per year. New York

City agreed to lease another 600,000 square feet, lower down in the building, at $56.50 per square foot. Without the political decision to relocate thousands of public sector workers into the new tower, it is doubtful that the tower would have been built.

For several decades the market for commercial space in lower Manhattan has been weaker than in midtown Manhattan. It is generally believed that the major reason for this is the narrower streets, the more irregular street pattern, and the smaller blocks. It is the oldest part of the city, and some of its street pattern goes back to the time when New York was New Amsterdam. This softness in the lower-Manhattan market for commercial floor space is readily apparent on a visit to the area if you simply observe the number of older office buildings that have been converted to rental or condominium apartments. Therefore many believe that more office space is simply the wrong way to go in lower Manhattan. Rather, they argue, the main thrust of new development should be residential because its access to Manhattan's numerous cultural attractions, its good public transportation, and its great views of the Hudson River, the East River, and New York Harbor make lower Manhattan an outstanding residential location, particularly for smaller households.

Proponents of a residential strategy might argue that building thousands of apartments, many of which will be occupied by young, well- educated people whom the urban geographer Richard Florida characterizes as members of the "creative class," in the long run would do more for the economic growth of the city than would more office space. This view may be right or wrong, but it does indicate that there is still room for basic policy choices. Large-scale urban design projects can raise issues that transcend strictly design questions and extend far beyond the physical site.

 
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