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Thacher Proffitt & Wood Heads Home

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 the area.

"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 regard."

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 well."

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.

© Copyright Voices of Lower Manhattan, 3/3/03.
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