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DOWNTOWN WILL BE UP AGAIN, JUST YOU WATCH

By STEVE CUOZZO

March 22, 2002

Scary. Alarming. Desperate. Any of those words describes your first taste of a new report on Downtown Manhattan, which found that the Sept. 11 terror attack will cost the Wall Street area about 59,000 jobs when the dust settles.
The data from real-estate brokerage TenantWise.com, released today, give chapter-and-verse on companies affected by the attacks - which businesses are staying, which are leaving and which haven't made up their minds.

Lehman Bros. has left downtown completely. Morgan Stanley has mostly left. Goldman Sachs says it's moving part of its headquarters to Jersey City. Insurance company Aon, which lost 175 employees on Sept. 11, doesn't know yet where it wants to be.

And those 59,000 lost jobs sound scary, right? The report found that of about 138,000 jobs in the destroyed or damaged buildings before Sept. 11, only about 76,300 have returned downtown or are likely to over the next few months.

It seems bad enough to make you throw your hands up in despair.

But a closer look at the numbers - and a little simple arithmetic - tell a more optimistic story. Most of those lost jobs simply went to Midtown. And of downtown's total 388,000 jobs before Sept. 11, under 6 percent have left Manhattan.

There is no stampede to New Jersey, or anywhere else. And for all the bad news about empty space downtown, the financial district has, in the past, seen more empty offices than today.

"The rumor mill of companies fleeing is not true," Cushman & Wakefield USA President Bruce Mosler declares.

Listen to Mosler, not to the sky-is-falling chorus. The gloom prophets include "consultants" who collect fees to tell CEOs they, too, should join the outbound stampede, and Manhattan power players pushing agendas for subsidies and tax incentives.

TenantWise predicts that by summer, downtown office "availability" - space either vacant or up for sublease - could soar to 20 percent. But in the early 1990s, when the city's economy was limping, downtown vacancies were that high - even without a terrorist attack that killed 3,000 and destroyed much of the commercial core.

It sounds grim only if you take the short-sighted view that downtown won't eventually be attractive again. We're not talking about downtown St. Louis - we're talking Downtown, with the New York Stock Exchange, the World Financial Center, great Art Deco skyscrapers - and Century 21.

Yes, a lot will depend on how soon the economic recovery spills over into new demand for space by Wall Street companies. And we're all waiting for the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. to come up with plans for Ground Zero.

Watch what happens downtown now that American Express, which first appeared to have left for good, plans to bring everyone back to the World Financial Center, plus 500 workers who had been moved to New Jersey before the attack.

If there's a symbol of Lower Manhattan's resilience, it's One Liberty Plaza, the great black steel tower widely reported to be on the brink of collapse in the days following Sept. 11.

My brother worked in that building, and my relief that he was OK was followed by the news that the tower had suffered no structural damage. Today, it's about 75 percent full and nearly 100 percent leased.

Like One Liberty, downtown itself was prematurely pronounced dead by too many people who ought to know better.

Copyright 2002 NYP Holdings, Inc.
 

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