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Some Buildings near Trade Center Site Remain in Limbo

By KAREN MATTHEWS, Associated Press Writer

March 30, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) - Eighteen months after the World Trade Center was destroyed, several surrounding office buildings are still closed and the future of the largest remains uncertain.

The 40-story Deutsche Bank tower just south of the trade center site has been cleared of a mold that infested it for months after the attack, but its owners have not decided whether to raze or repair it. Other buildings, such as the Post Office at 90 Church St. just north of the site, are still being cleaned and overhauled in preparation for reopening.

According to TenantWise.com, an online commercial real estate firm, nine of the 23 large office buildings damaged in the Sept. 11 attack are still closed.

The Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty St. is the largest at 1.4 million square feet. Still shrouded in black netting, it is an eyesore to downtown residents and business owners, said Madelyn Wils, who heads the local community board and is a board member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the city-state agency charged redeveloping the trade center.

"It's very hard to talk about revitalizing the area when you have one of the largest buildings still in shrouds and in limbo," Wils said.

The building made headlines last year with reports that its interior was covered with mold caused by moisture from fire sprinklers.

Sandra Mullin, a spokeswoman for the city Health Department, said 130 Liberty has been cleaned and "we have yet to identify any health concerns associated with the building."

Sources familiar with downtown redevelopment issues said Deutsche Bank is in negotiations with its insurers that will determine whether it is cheaper to renovate the building or tear it down.

"We have not taken any final decision on the future of the building," said Rohini Pragasam, a spokeswoman for Deutsche Bank. "We're continuing structural and environmental assessments."

The possibility remains that the property, once valued at $170 million, could be condemned and redeveloped by the development corporation or another government agency.

Postal officials thought their 15-story Church Street building with its ornate lobby would reopen in the fall of 2002. That date has been pushed back to spring 2004, spokeswoman Pat McGovern said.

"There were delays with the insurance companies and the type of cleaning that was to be done," McGovern said. She said the building is being completely gutted and the interior will have to be rebuilt.

Also moving slowly toward resolution is Fiterman Hall, a 15-story building that was donated to the City University of New York in 1993 and had just been renovated at a cost of $60 million when it was damaged by flying trade center debris.

Claudia Hutton, a spokeswoman for the state agency that manages the property, said it took until January of this year for the state to file its insurance claim.

"We're in discussions," Hutton said. "We're still providing them with supplemental information."

To the southwest of the trade center site is 90 West St., a 1907 skyscraper designed by Cass Gilbert, the architect who also designed Manhattan's better-known Woolworth Building.

The once graceful 25-story building was recently sold to a consortium called BCRE 90 West St. LLC.

"Their intent is to restore the building," said Valerie Campbell, a lawyer for the owners. "They're still in the process of developing plans. It incurred a lot of damage."

Because 90 West St. was declared a city landmark in 1998 it could not be torn down without permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

It could be converted into an apartment building or hotel, but Tenantwise Chief Executive Officer M. Myers Mermel, who has produced several surveys of the Manhattan real estate market, said it would be difficult to finance such a project unless the economy improves.

"There aren't many easy real estate solutions to these empty buildings right now, and so they're going to sit," Mermel said.

While the future of the closed buildings remains in doubt, officials are moving forward with plans for the 16-acre trade center site itself.

The development corporation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the land, chose architect Daniel Libeskind's design for the site last month and will shortly announce an international competition to create a memorial to the victims of the terrorist attack.

Libeskind's design, which exposes part of the original trade center's foundation walls and includes a 1,776-foot spire, is on display at the Winter Garden, an indoor plaza to the west of the trade center site that only reopened last September.

Melissa Coley, a spokeswoman for Brookfield Properties, which owns the Winter Garden and the World Financial Center complex it is part of, said repairs to the Winter Garden cost $50 million, all of which was covered by insurance.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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