At Ground Zero, Little Progress After Seven Years
September 10, 2008
After New York City’s Twin Towers fell in September 2001, rebuilding quickly—and majestically—seemed imperative. But seven years later, there is nothing majestic about the 16-acre World Trade Center site, a construction zone informally called The Pit.
In early July, the property owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, announced that all of the projects planned for Ground Zero were over budget and behind schedule. The authority’s executive director, Christopher Ward, delivered the bleak assessment during a meeting hosted by New York’s Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes development in Lower Manhattan. Ward noted straight off that most of the projects have been “driven by emotional and political needs,” and the costs and timetables initially presented to the public are unrealistic. “We are not going to make any of them,” he said.
While Ward was vague on details, a 34-page report the authority presented to New York Governor David Paterson pointed to 15 fundamental issues that are holding up progress. The report mentions rising construction costs, incessant demands of stakeholders, the lack of unified leadership, and the unprecedented scope of the redevelopment plan. Noting that there has been “no efficient decision-making process or steering committee,” Ward proposed that stakeholders come together and, by the end of September, set “clear and achievable timelines.”
Some found Ward’s announcement refreshingly honest. “It was clear he got it right away and understood what it was going to take to make this happen,” says T.J. Gottesdiener, FAIA, managing partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Others are not so hopeful. “People are fed up,” says Peter Slatin, editor of The Slatin Report, a popular commercial real estate Web site. The parties involved have cast aside the public interest, he says, and turned the rebuilding effort “into a circus for political and commercial interests.”
There are 26 projects totaling $15 billion planned for the site, according to The New York Times. The centerpiece of the scheme is the SOM-designed Freedom Tower, or 1 World Trade Center. Originally scheduled to be finished this year, construction of the 1,776-foot-tall skyscraper has inched along since foundation work began in 2006. Today, steel columns rise a mere 20 feet above street level.
Still, the Freedom Tower is faring better than Towers 2, 3, 4, and 5—designed by Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Fumihiko Maki, and Kohn Pedersen Fox, respectively. Tower 2 is in the excavation stage, while foundation work on Towers 3 and 4 got under way in February. The Tower 5 project is at a standstill until the former Deutsche Bank building, at 130 Liberty Street, is demolished. Further dampening spirits is a weakening commercial real estate market in Manhattan. The only completed tower at Ground Zero — the 52-story, SOM-designed 7 World Trade Center, which opened in 2006—is only 75 percent filled.
Given the dire situation, project downsizing is likely. Santiago Calatrava’s transit hub, projected to cost up to $3.5 billion, already was scaled back: In July, the hydraulic system that would allow its roof to open and close was eliminated from the proposed design. A performing arts complex by Frank Gehry might not get built at all.
One landmark now under way is the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. The architect Michael Arad, with landscape architect Peter Walker, proposed the competition-winning scheme for the memorial: two pools in an 8-acre, tree-filled plaza. David Brody Bond Aedas designed the museum, located mostly below ground, with an entry pavilion by Snøhetta. Foundation work on both projects is nearing completion.
Joe Daniels, president of the memorial and museum, says it is essential that the memorial be open by the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The architect, while happy the project is moving forward, is not optimistic it will be finished by September 2011. “It’s a significant milestone,” Arad says, “and I’m disappointed that we’re not going to be able to meet it.”