Developing the Downtown Imagining a New Skyline

Developing the Downtown

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), the agencies charged with overseeing the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, have narrowed the field from nine design concepts to two, both of which contain varying residential components.

Following a much-scrutinized planning process, the LMDC and Port Authority went back to the drawing board last summer after six original designs were abandoned after intense public criticism. In August 2002, LMDC launched a worldwide search for architects, planners and artists and 406 proposals were submitted from around the world. The designs had to incorporate a memorial setting that preserved the skyline and feature a wide range of commercial and retail space.

In December, nine new designs were released and planners have reached a consensus on two - World Cultural Center, a design developed by a THINK team of architects; and Memory Foundations, a design by Berlin architect Daniel Libeskind.

"The design teams have made a major civic contribution above and beyond what was asked of them," stated LMDC Chairman John C. Whitehead. "Every one of these architects and designers is a winner for helping to shape the public debate over the future of Lower Manhattan.

"After holding numerous public hearings in the boroughs and in New Jersey and listening to many constituencies and organizations, it was a difficult task to choose which design approaches offer the greatest potential - not only for today, but for generations to come."

Lush Gardens and the World's Tallest Towers

The THINK team concept developed by architects Shigeru Ban, Frederic Schwartz, Ken Smith and Rafael Vinoly, features massive latticework towers - slightly taller than the former Twin Towers - as the centerpiece to foster development of nine buildings encompassing nearly 8.6 million square feet of office space.

The World Cultural Center site would also include a 658,300-square-foot hotel; 1,095,400 square feet of retail space - three quarters of it underground; and the potential to convert a 213,000-square-foot, 10-story commercial building to residential use that would yield approximately 200 apartments. A 200,000-square-foot 9/11 memorial and interpretative museum, an 180,000-square-foot performing arts center, a 400,000-square-foot international conference center, school and library, an open amphitheater, and space allocated for multiple viewing platforms, are planned. The development would be built around the footprints of the former WTC site.

The plan includes the extension and expansion of Fulton and Greenwich streets, adding retail, offices and pedestrian life to the area. TriBeCa is also connected with the neighborhood south of Liberty Street. The plan would also improve Lower Manhattan by providing an active, diverse street life around the clock.

"Ground Zero should emerge from this tragedy as the first truly Global Center, a place where people can gather to celebrate cultural diversity in peaceful and productive coexistence," says the THINK team statement. "Finding the proper balance between the two main objectives of the project - Remembrance and Redevelopment - depends on the way in which investment in the public infrastructure contributes to the renewal of Lower Manhattan. An inspired plan will rededicate our city to the ideals of diversity, democracy, and optimism that have made New York the world's center for the exchange not only of goods and services, but also of creativity and culture."

Leaseholder Expresses Design Concerns

Developer Larry Silverstein, the leaseholder of the World Trade Center property, recently expressed some concerns about the feasibility of the architectural designs put forward by the THINK and Libeskind teams. In a published report, Silverstein worried about the usefulness of some of the design elements, such as the latticework in the towers proposed by THINK, and believed that towers taller than the original WTC would be extremely difficult to evacuate in case of an emergency, and also might be more difficult to rent.

Steve Solomon of Rubenstein Associates, a public relations spokesman for Silverstein Properties, said that Mr. Silverstein has since tempered his criticism of the designs and "is very optimistic that this will be a cooperative effort that will lead to the successful development of the World Trade Center site."

Solomon continued that Mr. Silverstein is eager to be more involved in the planning process and is confident that a workable design will be arrived at in what is going to be an ongoing process that will take many years. "He now believes that issues can be dealt with effectively in a cooperative fashion," said Solomon.

What's the Pricetag

Preliminary construction cost estimates for the World Cultural Center design range between $125-$175 million for the towers, streets and sidewalks at Greenwich and Fulton Street, and the reflecting pool at the towers' base. Memorial elements, below-grade infrastructure, transportation elements, and private development are excluded. Another $575 million is estimated for structural, mechanical, electrical and vertical transportation systems for the towers themselves, according to LMDC.

The Studio Daniel Libeskind design envisions approximately 7.63 million square feet of office space on-site, with the potential to develop 1.745 million square feet that would be reserved for 1,750 residential apartments on Liberty Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets. Under the plan, the skyline would again be restored to contain the tallest building in the world.

"The sky will be home again to a towering spire of 1,776 feet high, the Gardens of the World. Why gardens? Because gardens are a constant affirmation of life," Libeskind explains in his statement. "A skyscraper rises above its predecessors, reasserting the pre-eminence of freedom and beauty, restoring the spiritual peak to the city, creating an icon that speaks of our vitality in the face of danger and our optimism in the aftermath of tragedy."

About 900,000 square feet of retail space is planned, along with an 180,000-square-foot memorial museum, a 325,000-square-foot performing arts center, and a 24,000-square-foot vertical garden. Several pedestrian walkways and memorial promenades would intersect the former WTC site linking up residential areas to the cultural and retail areas and the surrounding World Financial Center. The Libeskind design also estimates a preliminary construction cost estimate of $125-$175 million - including all public plazas and landscaped parks, streets and sidewalks at Fulton and Greenwich Streets, and another $105 million to stabilize the slurry wall presently at the trade center site. Memorial elements, below grade infrastructure and private development are excluded from the cost estimate.

LMDC is planning to have a design concept, underlying transportation, infrastructure and land use plan delineated by the end of February followed by another period of public comment and refinement. Once a plan is in place, an international memorial competition will be launched in the spring of 2003 to finalize that aspect of the project, according to LMDC.

Debra A. Estock is Managing Editor of The Cooperator.

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