By STEVE TUCKEY, who has written on insurance issues for a decade for several national media outlets
Nothing has been simple at the world's most famous construction site where, nine years after the terrorist attacks that shook the world, steel girders have risen about 28 stories that convince New Yorkers and tourists alike that one day a seeming normality may resume.
While the site remains the hallowed burial ground of thousands of victims who died that day, it also a critical piece of a real estate in a city wracked by recession and rising office vacancy rates. All these factors had to be taken into consideration during the planning process for the site that began not too long after Sept. 11, 2001.
Construction on below-ground utility relocations, footings and foundations for the 1,776 foot, 104-story building began in the spring of 2006. While the height was symbolic, the originally name, Freedom Tower, became too symbolic for the Port Authority. The name was changed to the more prosaic One World Trade Center in the belief that people do not necessarily want to go to work in a symbolic tower that could inspire all sorts of behavior, good or bad.
Building occupancy has been set for 2013.
Some delays included the necessity of a redesign five years ago that included a 187-foot concrete base for security reasons.
The Sept. 11 attacks also ignited epic insurance battles that centered on whether they constituted one event or two separate ones. In 2006, Swiss Re won its day in court with its contention that the attacks were a single event. Issues of contract certainty also took center stage because the attacks happened shortly after the takeover of the site by private enterprise before all contracts were finalized.
Plans to build a $100 million, 13-story mosque and Muslim community center two blocks from the site have raised passions and questions as to whether feelings are too raw at the present for such a project. Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin tweeted that New Yorkers should "refudiate" the project, while New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has backed it and called it a symbol of healing.
Several other towers are in various stages of planning at the site, along with a museum and cultural center. Their fates depend on the vagaries of financing and the state of the economy in general and the New York office market is in particular. In addition, the reconstruction of a complex web of subway and train stations will make living and working in the area a challenge for years to come.
SIGNS OF SUCCESS?
One sign of optimism for the ultimate success of the project was the fierce competition to be named an equity partner with the Port Authority for the One World Trade Center site. The winning Durst Organization, a prominent New York real estate family, had dismissed the chances for success three years ago when the project was named Freedom Tower.
But the credit crisis has led to the cancellation of several building projects, leading the Dursts and other New York real estate experts to believe the building might not be the white elephant everyone once feared.
Meanwhile, the struggle to build up the rest of the 16-acre site will continue. The developer of the original World Trade Center, the Port Authority, wants to get out of the office building business to concentrate on its original transportation mission. So the fate of the several planned office towers and cultural facilities will depend on what financing its development partner Larry Silverstein can come up with and the overall economic conditions..
September 1, 2010
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