I wrote this 3 years ago, there is still no completion date.
The World Trade Center site means many things to many people. As a born and raised New Yorker, I have always seen it as a symbol of the strength of the financial, economic, and real estate capital of the world that is New York City. To walk by almost every day and see a completed 4 or 1 World Trade Center shooting up into the sky means a lot; those buildings fulfill that symbolism.
However while walking by; I cannot get past glaring at the stump that is 2 World Trade Center. The public impression for the majority of New Yorkers is that the site is nearly complete now that 1WTC is finished. Most believe that the full build out of the transit terminal is all that remains. I often wonder if there would be an outcry among New Yorkers if most knew that 2 WTC stood unfinished. It seems that only architecture and WTC history buffs are the people who care anymore.
Whenever discussing things at the site, immediately and not surprisingly, the situation becomes politicized. People on the political left say that Mr. Silverstein wants to socialize any potential loss while privatizing any profits. People on the political right say that the Port has no place holding up development and business at the site in the first place. The truth is that both Mr. Silverstein and the Port stand to make more money in the long run with the buildings constructed to their full height.
To examine how we arrived in this predicament today we must look at how the WTC was created in the first place. The land the buildings sit on didn’t exist 100 years ago. At the time the land was filled in and the buildings were built, for any private entity to take on the financial risk of such a project would be unprecedented. The government, with access to unlimited funding (it can print its own money, no business can do that), was able to fund the project. The site was entirely owned and operated by (for the most part due to discrepancies on a few streets) The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey until the end of 1997. In 1998 the Port decided to ‘privatize’ the WTC, meaning lease the buildings to a developer, not sell the land and buildings outright. Unfortunately for Mr. Silverstein, he chose a bad time to sign that lease due to the terrorist attack on 9/11/01.
The government’s role is to defend the land of the USA, not create new land, own it, build on it, then charge people for working in their buildings. I do not recall reading the word landlord in the constitution. The government should be operated like a business, yet at the same never serve as a landlord.
The government becoming a landlord opens the door to unfairness on many levels. If they own the land, they can pick who works there and who does not, whether they can make the most money or not. Such a prestigious address creates wealth for a business on its own.
Why, in a free country 2 states hold the rights over a single piece of commercial land (the most expensive real estate I know of) is beyond me. What is worse is that the land exists within the borders of only 1 state, not two. As organizations get larger they become more complex, costly, and the efficiency of the process drops along with the ability to hold people accountable. Private equity, or in Mr. Silverstein’s case, tenants, are less likely to want to have to deal with a machine like that; regardless of the address of the building. People on the political left who are also against Mr. Silverstein use that same premise to justify the need to break up large companies and banks. Yet they seem to forget to apply it to government, thinking that government is somehow immune. It isn’t.
It is true; the original WTC may have had to wait another decade or two if it were funded with private money. However, if it were done privately from the beginning, these current problems would not be present.
The whole site needs to be privatized, both states could use the money, why not put the entire site up for sale. The government should be in charge of the transit system on the site, nothing else. Just imagine how much that could help reduce the operating deficits or long term liabilities of each state. If a move toward true privatization occurred in 1997/8, it would most likely have guaranteed that the site would be far closer to completion than it is today.
Some say Wall Street is completely reckless and unaccountable; unfortunately that is a fallacy. There are multiple government agencies and thousands of pages of regulation to penalize and hold Wall Street accountable where and when necessary. The one entity in the US that is immune to accountability is the government itself. I often speculate what it would take for a number of private entities to come together and purchase the land from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The decisions at the Port are subject to influence from Trenton (NJ Capital) and Albany (NY Capital) as well as the federal level of government due to the funding the Port receives from Washington DC. With all of this money comes influence, which is a double-edged sword. Some officials just want it built and finished, while others want to preserve it or delay it to put their stamp on it.
It took years to get a final design that everyone in both states approved of, then another organization (the NYPD) comes in and says it’s unsafe and redesigns had to be undertaken. There is nothing wrong with designing a building with safety from a terror attack in mind; but where was their input during the first set of designs? Why did no planner or architect consider what they would be bringing to the table as far as safety requirements go?
Our 30th president J Calvin Coolidge in his address to the society of American newspaper editors said “the chief business of the American people is business”; but to accomplish something at this site takes both direct and possibly indirect approval from two states and the federal government. I feel bad for Mr. Silverstein, he may never live to see his work realized although I sincerely hope that he does. One57, 432 Park, and the soon to be constructed Central Park Tower are all great examples of how private citizenry through private financing can build great high quality buildings, and do it quickly. Private firms have a long track record of being able to do it. The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building are great examples of this. I say it is time to leave this up to the private sector. Think how quickly those two landmark buildings went up, and then consider the technology of the time. There would be more accountability, more of a drive to succeed and more of a desire to bring a high quality product faster than anything a product of 2 states, one federal government, and one developer could produce together.
I was 19 on 9/11/01, I am 34 now as I write this and I seriously question whether or not the site will be ENTIRELY complete by the time I am 42. If it is not by that point, I may begin considering whether or not I will see 2 WTC rise by the end of my life. As a kid born in Red Hook Brooklyn, I would see the original WTC from my apartment and want to work there when I grew up. From my street on the bottom of Staten Island I can see 1WTC on a clear day. Hopefully someday I will have the opportunity to have an office of my own in 2WTC, which most if not everyone who sees the designs can agree, is the most beautiful of the complex.