Voices of Lower Manhattan
By: Katie Klith
Date: 2/4/03 8:52:00 PM
One of Lower Manhattan’s oldest businesses is returning home to the World
Financial Center. Thacher Proffit & Wood provided legal services to
corporate and financial firms downtown since 1848 and occupied several
floors of Tower Two of the World Trade Center until September 11th. Now,
after a year in temporary quarters in Midtown, the firm has signed a lease
for 137,000 square feet at Two World Financial Center that will provide
office space for more than 300 employees. Thacher Proffit & Wood is believed
to be the first company from the World Trade Center to sign a new lease in
"There was both nostalgia and concern about the location, being close to the
site of the World Trade Center. But on balance and with the passage of time,
we believe our people are comfortable with our decision," says Omer S.J.
"Jack" Williams, Chairman of Thacher Proffitt & Wood. "Our people have been
resilient throughout these last 14 months and we are looking forward to
going back, to being closer to the roots of our business, and in some small
way, giving back to the community that nurtured us for so long."
Since many former residents are taking a wait-and-see approach to the
situation, the announcement from Thacher Proffitt was big news, and even
Governor George Pataki weighed in with his appreciation for the firm's
decision, saying " The return of Thacher is yet another indication that the
revitalization of Lower Manhattan is well underway."
Revitalization may be under way, but it's something that will take time and
a continued influx of businesses to the area. According the New York State
Comptroller's office, since September 11, nine of the 23 damaged buildings
have been restored to service, but restoration and repair schedules for the
remaining properties range from two weeks to five years.
Thacher Proffitt, which plans to move into its new space by August 2003, is
willing to wait out the process. "Eventually, the World Trade Center site
will be rebuilt and Downtown Lower Manhattan will revive. The recovery of
the national and city economy makes it difficult to judge time frames for
when these changes transpire. We realize we will have to be patient in this
Patience and the economy will be important, but so will confidence in the
opportunities available in this new Lower Manhattan, something Williams
seems to have in abundance. "Continuing business development and
continuation of the area as the leading financial center of the world would
be the goal, but making the area more of an around-the-clock community would
be great, for residential and other purposes. The proposals for moving some
of the major cultural elements into the downtown area, such as the New York
City Opera, would be a major boost for both business and residential
development in the area and personally, I would love it."
Since Thacher Proffit & Wood signed the lease for the new space, Alliance
for Downtown New York figures show that more than 60 companies have signed
new or renewed leases in the Lower Manhattan area, and a recent study by
TenantWise indicates that 40% of the displaced WTC tenants intend to
reoccupy space downtown.
Williams realizes the role Thacher Proffitt may play in the decisions of
other companies. "Our Firm has a history of more than 150 years in the
Downtown area, and we hope that our move can be a small catalyst to
encourage others to move to the area," says Williams.
When asked about the role the firm's history played in the move back to
Lower Manhattan, Williams says that was one element that factored into the
decision. "We did indeed take our history and some sense of responsibility
into account in our decision, and we have some client relations that were
also taken into account. Some of our people thought it was a statement that
we would not be cowed by terrorists, and though true, that was not a major
motivation. We believe we have negotiated a good financial transaction as
In addition to cost, other considerations were necessary, says Williams, and
the decision to return to Downtown was made in a methodical way. "We visited
almost every site in lower Manhattan that was of a size to accommodate our
space needs, and several sites in Midtown and lower. We were looking for
Class A law firm space and took into account any number of factors, such as
location, size, adaptability to the layout we desired and price."
The combination of financial, business and personal decisions that led to
the move still leave Thacher Proffitt in the position of being an early
tenant of an area that has a complicated past. But the firm clearly feels
strong ties to Lower Manhattan, and has made a decision the partners feel
good about. "Thacher Proffitt is finally going back home," says Williams.
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