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Lower Manhattan Post-September 11

By Allan Hoffman
Monster Tech Jobs Expert

August 19, 2002

As people often said in the days after September 11, everything will change.

Certainly for workers at the World Trade Center and other buildings damaged in the attacks, that was quickly apparent. So much was lost -- thousands of lives, of course, but also files, mementos and software code. The buildings where these workers were employed, symbols of New York City and the nation -- gone. As others returned to a semblance of normalcy, the transition has been a more complicated one for those who worked at a place now called Ground Zero.

"People remember it every day," says Calvin Mitchell, senior vice president of corporate communications for Instinet, the electronic trading company that occupied offices on the 12th through 14th floors of the South Tower.

About 200 employees made it safely out of the building. But two senior Instinet executives who were attending a conference at Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the North Tower, died in the attacks. The company continues to offer counseling. "The effects can be felt for many days, months and years after," says Mitchell.

Stay or Relocate?

The degree of upheaval varies from business to business. Some were destroyed. Windows on the World, the nation's most lucrative restaurant, no longer exists. Other businesses struggled to stay in operation, even as scores -- or hundreds -- of employees were missing. Still others, all of their workers safe, faced assorted challenges, such as locating office space and reassuring clients. Many companies, like Instinet, moved rapidly to recover; between its Times Square headquarters and other locations, all employees had space in time for the markets' opening on September 17.

The 34.5 million square feet of office space destroyed or damaged in the attacks is resulting in a "tremendous exodus from Lower Manhattan," says Myers Mermel, CEO of TenantWise, a real estate market research and leasing firm. According to TenantWise, company relocation decisions will result in 62,467 jobs leaving downtown Manhattan. Of these, 37,687 will head to Midtown, while 17,575 will be in New Jersey, and the rest will be shifted elsewhere.

Companies essentially have had three options: Reoccupying damaged space, as Merrill Lynch did at the World Financial Center; leasing new space, as Empire BlueCross BlueShield is doing (with plans to locate 1,300 employees at a new space being built in Brooklyn); or backfilling vacant offices, as is the case with Instinet.

Even now, uncertainty remains for many companies. Until September 11, Abbeville Press, a publisher of fine art and illustrated books, was located at 22 Cortlandt St., a building directly across from the World Trade Center and known for its street-level Century 21 store. Though Century 21 reopened in February, Abbeville Press decided the location was no longer right for the company, says Susan Costello, vice president and editorial director, whose 32nd-floor office had windows overlooking the towers.

Costello and others now work out of their homes and a temporary office on 23rd Street shared with other businesses. Only a few work there full-time as the publisher seeks a permanent space, says Costello.

Employees have had to adjust. "It's a virtual office," she says. "You have to be a bit more organized this way and foresee difficulties to make the projects work. We have to be more resourceful and resilient."

Business As Usual

Workers have managed to return to their jobs since September 11, often with a renewed sense of both on-the-job teamwork and what matters in their personal lives.

"While we'll never really forget and we'll always remember the event and those who were lost, by and large, people have adjusted as well as they could, and we're moving on," says Bob Lawrence, senior vice president of human resources and services for Empire, which occupied 10 floors of the South Tower. About 1,900 employees worked there. Nine employees and two consultants died in the attacks.

Empire's Employee Assistance Program for counseling workers experienced much higher usage after the attacks, but the numbers have returned to normal in 2002, says Lawrence, who was on the 29th floor when a jet slammed into the tower. With renewed attention to the attacks due to the anniversary, Lawrence expects more employees may seek counseling.

Work As Catharsis

Work can offer a sort of solace, too. Shortly after the attacks, Costello got a phone call from photographer Angelo Lomeo, whose books on Provence and Venice (with his wife, Sonja Bullaty) were published by Abbeville. Unbeknownst to Costello, Bullaty and Lomeo had photographed the towers for years. Would Costello like to see the photos? She did, and in October they began to discuss a book. The World Trade Center Remembered, with an introduction by New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger, was published in November.

"It took us about five weeks to do the book in total," says Costello. "And we never do instant books. It was very cathartic for us to work on a project."

Work as catharsis, in fact, seems to be a common theme among those whose jobs were disrupted by the attacks.

Beast Financial Systems, a technology firm with offices on the 80th floor of the North Tower, didn't lose any employees in the attacks, but it did lose software code. The company moved quickly to recover. "The event definitely brought everyone together as a team," says Jennifer Van Hofwegen, director of strategic alliances and marketing. "Our development team was very, very busy after that. They didn't even have a lot of time to realize what had happened."

After working out of offices in Parsippany, New Jersey, and elsewhere in Manhattan, the company moved into permanent offices at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 37th Street in April 2002. "We're all under one roof again," Van Hofwegen says.

Likewise, Instinet workers were galvanized by the crisis, with workers driving from other US locations the week of the attack to bring equipment and help the company ready itself for the markets' opening. "The team spirit that was forged at that time certainly continues today," says Mitchell.

Changing Attitudes

Of course, even as workers devote themselves to their jobs, the events helped put things into perspective. "People are really prioritizing," says Van Hofwegen. "We work hard, but people are really trying to get home earlier, too. It made people realize what's important in life."


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