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Saving "The Worst For Last"
By Ed Driscoll · September 22, 2006 02:12 PM · From Bauhaus To Our House · War And Anti-War

In City Journal, Nicole Gelinas has an update on "The latest round of painful negotiations between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the World Trade Center site, and Larry Silverstein, who owns the right to re-develop it":

Under that earlier agreement, Silverstein retained the right and responsibility to build three office towers at Ground Zero, but the Port Authority took over the financial responsibility for building a fourth building—the Freedom Tower—and finding tenants for it.
She describes the latest developments as essentially an addendum to that earlier agreement, and as "good news". Because, "the faster Silverstein can build his three towers, the better for the fate of Ground Zero, and New York City":
Silverstein’s three towers, unlike the Freedom Tower, are likely to be commercially viable. Despite a few trendy design elements, they’re really just going to be normal office buildings, and their most gimmicky features may well disappear as they move from the drawing board to real life. Plus, the three towers will arise closest to Lower Manhattan’s major thoroughfares and to its transportation hubs, making them attractive to corporate tenants.

Unlike the Freedom Tower, moreover, Silverstein’s three towers aren’t supposed to be “skyline icons,” so they won’t have to bear the burden of the symbolic 1,776-foot height that Governor Pataki has forced the Freedom Tower to bear even before it’s built.

While the success of the Freedom Tower depends on tenants’ overcoming their fear about working in “that building,” the success of Silverstein’s three towers depends only on New York’s economy—that is, will it be strong enough in 2012 (when construction should finish) to support their 6.2 million square feet of new office space? That’s the risk Silverstein, like any developer, takes.

Real progress on Silverstein’s three towers is important for another reason: the Freedom Tower’s fate remains far from certain. Earlier this week, PA chairman Anthony Coscia made headlines when he confirmed that he would rather resign than force Port Authority employees to work in the tower after having experienced the horror of 9/11.

His assertion didn’t do much for the tower’s prospects—and though the PA’s proposal is to line up lease agreements from state and federal agencies instead, it’s not clear that their employees want to work in the tower either. Plus, too large a government presence will scare away the private-sector tenants that downtown really needs, as corporate execs who rent Class-A space don’t want to work in what’s perceived as a government office building.

The best thing for the Freedom Tower would be for New York, and the Port Authority, to just leave it alone for awhile. Perhaps after another three years, say, when visible development is taking place on Silverstein’s three towers, rationality will at last prevail at Ground Zero, and the new governor and the Port Authority will let the private sector start from scratch on a commercially viable office building, not a skyline landmark designed by committee.

I hope she's right, but I wouldn't bet on it.

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