“WORLD TRADE CENTER SITE SITS EMPTY AS RIVALS LEASE UP”
On Monday, May 13th, Crain’s New York Business published one of those rare articles where the New York media reports on the facts at Ground Zero, instead of the fluff. They revealed that “with no big deal inked since Condé Nast, all three buildings there have huge vacancies,” but exposing the lack of candor regarding the site’s prospects would have been a greater service a year ago, when it was already a big problem.
City-dwellers may think that “the chickens always come home to roost” is just a quaint saying. But it is as predictable as the sunrise. We should not be surprised that a site that has been built upon lie after lie is a flop. Clever manipulation of the media has allowed officials to keep kicking the can down the road, forestalling the day of reckoning, instead of dealing honestly with the layers of dishonesty at the site. But the only reason they have gotten away with it for so long is because the public has no idea how much public money has been squandered or the degree to which we are all being cheated.
Words can only go so far in disguising that this project that has sucked up billions of public dollars to produce towers that no one is interested in occupying. It was emphatically not “what the public wanted” – including, the many 9/11 families who did in fact want to see new Twin Towers. And restoring the pre-WTC street grid was not an “imperative” but instead created a completely avoidable, massively expensive security nightmare.
But the biggest fraud of all: it was not “too late” — in 2005, in 2008, in 2010 — to give a serious look at “Twin Towers II” — a plan co-created by an architect who had worked on the original Emory Roth team in the 60s to build re-engineered Twin Towers that would be stronger, safer, taller, and better in every way.
The 21st-century Twins would have incorporated all the advantages of the current plan, while costing less than half as much to build, they would have been finished by now (even if the transition had been started as late as 2008) and would offer what the current project will never have — authenticity and world-class excitement.
The Crain’s article actually featured the opinion of Christopher Ward, a man who did more to undermine what the WTC could have been than anyone else. That was an odd choice. When Gov. Paterson first selected Ward to head the Port Authority, Bronx Assemblyman Dinowitz wrote an op-ed predicting that putting him in charge of the agency was like setting the fox to guard the henhouse. Where was the media then, when they could have and should have explored those charges when it would have made all the difference?
When we at the Twin Towers Alliance introduced Mr. Ward to the designer of Twin Towers II, Kenneth Gardner, in Ward’s office in September of 2008, he promised that he would look into the claims that changing course would save billions of dollars and years of time and promised repeatedly to get back to us. He never did. Apparently he decided that he couldn’t risk a feasibility study, because if it substantiated the claims, what could he do with the political boondoggle he had taken over?
But did he tell the Commissioners of Gardner’s assertions? The magnitude of potential savings were nothing that Ward had the authority to dismiss. Neither did the commissioners. And neither did the governors.
So now that Joe Nocera’s 2010 and 2011 predictions in the New York Times have come true and the public is bearing the financial burden for not just the Freedom Tower but an entire site that is a white elephant, is the media finally going to start investigating the swindle at Ground Zero? They should start with Nicole Gelinas’ expose in the Fall 2012 issue of City Journal.
The public was not the only one cheated at Ground Zero. If only the Port Authority and Silverstein had faced facts in 2005 or 2008 and built state-of-the-art Twin Towers that would have honestly restored our vandalized skyline, they wouldn’t have priced themselves out of the market and there wouldn’t be a property on earth, let alone in the city, that could have rivaled the new WTC’s cachet.
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