TenantWise
Home Search For Space My Tenantwise About Contact



Login

Register
Search for Manhattan Office Space





Privacy

BIAS & REBUILDING

By STEVE CUOZZO

September 17, 2003

September 17, 2003 -- TODAY, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the Port Authority will unveil Daniel Libeskind's revised master plan for Ground Zero. We'll get to see how well the architect, public agencies and leaseholder have reconciled the needs for commercial renewal, memorial commemoration, footprint preservation, street extension and skyline restoration - all on a site too small for them all.
The design will little resemble Libeskind's original, knife-edged, pit-and-pendulum vision of last year. It retains all the 10 million square feet of offices that Libeskind grudgingly squeezed into a version shown last winter.

The difference is that the new model, which moves about 1.5 million square feet of offices to 130 Liberty St., has a real chance of being built. That's because Gov. Pataki has put his muscle behind it - and because Libeskind agreed to let Larry Silverstein's architect, David Childs, design the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower.

Libeskind has clearly bowed to reality. His accommodations lend hope that the tower might actually poke its head out of the earth by next summer - paving the way for the eventual reclamation of the entire 16-acre site in an appropriate form.

BUT Libeskind's willingness to play ball is bound to infuriate anti-development forces of every stripe: left-wing ideologues, landlords fearful of competition from new office towers and - no secret to readers of this page - The New York Times and the editorial page, at least, of the Daily News.

Whatever the Times' or News' objections to the aesthetics of Ground Zero, they have made no secret as to what they really hate: the restoration of office space there.

What reception awaits the revised site plan may be gleaned from a lavishly illustrated story in Saturday's Times. It expressed shock - actually, horror! - that Libeskind's evolved plan will closely resemble last year's Beyer Blinder Belle designs, which the Times hated.



The headline groaned, "Ground Zero Plan Seems to Circle Back - Compromises Behind the Scenes Echo a Proposal Rejected Earlier."

It's ironic that after a prolonged selection process and much tweaking, Libeskind's final plan will recall BBB's. But it is hardly a secret. It was first brought to public attention on this page in March, where Libeskind's master plan and one of BBB's were shown side by side under the headline, "What's the difference?"

WHY does the Times pretend to notice only now? Because last winter, it didn't suit the paper's purpose to do so.

The Gray Lady had enthusiastically endorsed Libeskind's original vision for a 70-foot-deep pit and knife-edge towers. Even after some rough edges were softened, Libeskind's heart remained more in the plan's exposed slurry wall, "Wedge of Light" and cultural museum than in office buildings.

And the Times just as plainly hoped Libeskind's "vision" would crowd out Silverstein's ambition to restore the office space. Just two months ago, a Times editorial said that "one version" of Libeskind's plan "did make room" for 10 million feet of offices - as if that "one version" were not, in truth, the only plan on the table at that time.

The notion that full office restoration could be rolled back was bolstered by Libeskind's insistence that only he would design the Freedom Tower - even though he had never designed an office building.

But things quickly changed. Prodded by Pataki, Libeskind and Silverstein reached a rough accommodation, and Libeskind yielded to Silverstein's demand for Childs to design the big tower. Now the Times, along with much of the deep-thinking establishment, appears ready to turn its erstwhile fair-haired boy Libeskind into a goat.

It would not be the first time The Times has played a destructive role in delaying Ground Zero's reclamation. Its obsessive assault on last summer's BBB site plans lent an aura of legitimacy to the LMDC's cowardly withdrawal of them, setting things back a year.

IT'S an unfortunate, and under-appreciated, truth that two of New York's three daily newspapers are linked to real-estate interests likely to suffer from office replenishment Downtown - a circumstance that makes both papers something other than disinterested spectators at Ground Zero.

The Times is in a close partnership with developer Forest City Ratner, which plans to build the Times Co.'s new Midtown headquarters tower; it will be jointly owned by the Times and Ratner. Ratner also aspires to develop new office towers in Brooklyn, likely at Downtown's expense.

At the same time, Ratner and the Times have a problem on their hands: The top half of the new Times tower, located on Eighth Avenue and 40th Street, has not yet signed tenants. Ratner's inability so far to obtain a construction loan for its portion of the building has compelled it to seek Liberty Bond financing. The last thing Ratner needs while it searches for companies to fill 700,000 square feet on top of the Times space is a batch of freshly minted, cheaper new offices Downtown.

Lest anyone think that Midtown and Downtown are not competing markets, recall that HIP is leaving the West 30s for 55 Water St. Or consider how giant Midtown landlord Boston Properties is trying to exploit Downtown's weakened condition. The collapse of Arthur Andersen left Boston with a mostly empty new office tower in Times Square. To fill it, Boston is trying to lure law firm Cadwalader Wickersham Taft - a Downtown tenant for 200 years.

And who is Boston's chairman? Mortimer Zuckerman - who also happens to be chairman of the Daily News. If the Times is joined at the wallet to a real-estate firm, the Daily News is joined at the head.

LIKE Ratner or any other landlord, Boston Properties would prefer to keep the inventory of competing space as small as possible to keep rents as high as possible, in accordance with the law of supply and demand. A News editorial last summer warned Silverstein and the PA against even thinking about replacing all the WTC's office space.

The News has long had a beef with the PA. It escalated after Boston Properties, in partnership with Brookfield Properties, tried to buy the World Trade Center leasehold in the winter and spring of 2001 - only to lose out to Silverstein in an epic bidding war.

The News has confined its distaste for office rebuilding and its hostility toward Silverstein to its editorial page. Not so the Times, which for months flagrantly falsified Downtown's condition with exaggerated vacancy rates and hysterical predictions of mass corporate exodus.

EMBARRASSED by revelations that its own new headquarters might swell that vacancy rate, the Times briefly mothballed its blatant propaganda. No longer do news stories directly assail the wisdom of rebuilding 10 million square feet of offices.

But the campaign has returned in stealthier form. On Sunday, a Times survey of the commercial market cited only the most pessimistic data on Manhattan's unoccupied space.

The Times used numbers from Newmark & Co., one of the city's big-three commercial brokerages. As anyone in real estate knows, Newmark always reports higher vacancy rates than competitors such as Cushman & Wakefield, CB Richard Ellis and Jones Lang LaSalle.

The same day, the Times picked up its old drumbeat about jobs not returning to Manhattan. It "reported" old news that of 20,000 financial services jobs lost after 9/11, half had not come back - a handy argument against rebuilding offices.

Why such a non-story now? To discredit Downtown's prospects, the Times relied on prognostications of M. Myers Mermel, the same tenant broker whose wild claims of 20-plus percent "vacancies" Downtown last year emboldened the paper to declare that one floor in five stood "empty." True to form, Mermel told the Times that even when Wall Street firms rehire, "they will place new employees elsewhere."

Yes, The Post also carries bad tidings about Downtown, from Silverstein's insurance woes to the bankruptcy of the Century 21 office tower to Donald Trump's trashing of the Libeskind plan as a "monstrosity."

But The Post (like The Wall Street Journal, Crain's and other papers) has also covered Downtown's declining vacancy rate and the stabilization of the commercial base - phenomena that somehow elude the interest of Times editors.

NO one suggests Times reporters are party to an agenda. What appears in any paper is as much a reflection of editing as of reporting. We rarely get to know how stories are assigned or edited - or which ones are written but never see print.

An exception was the sports columns about the Augusta Golf Club that broke with Howell Raines' party line. Spiked by Raines' lackeys, they saw light of day only after a public outcry.

Maybe one day we'll learn how the Times decides what's fit to print about Ground Zero.

Copyright 2003 NYP Holdings, Inc.
 

Goods & Services     Privacy     Press     Terms of Use