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1 Liberty Plaza

Tower Survives Greatly Exaggerated Rumors and Prepares to Reopen


October 17, 2001

One Liberty Plaza, the sleek black skyscraper just east of the World Trade Center, was the subject of numerous reports of collapse and serious structural damage in the hours and days just after Sept. 11. Rumors of its demise, however, were premature. The building is reopening, with a celebration scheduled for Monday. A ribbon will be cut at the 54-story building, which has arguably been pronounced "structurally sound" more times than any other skyscraper in the city.

"There are no structural concerns with this building," said Ilyse Fink, the director of communications for the city's Department of Buildings, reinforcing a message she has delivered almost daily since Sept. 12. "It is not and was not in danger of collapse. The building is structurally sound."

What scares many of those who will be moving back has nothing to do with structural integrity. It has to do with the emotion of doing business in offices practically atop ground zero. The building's lobby was an emergency triage center on the night of the attacks, and one of its stores was a makeshift morgue. The building is directly across Church Street from the trade center's rubble.

"I think that most of us are absolutely prepared to believe that if the building owners, engineers and other powers that be tell us the building is safe, it's safe," said Pam Sloan, a partner with Flemming, Zulack and Williamson, a law firm on the 35th floor. "Reservations have to do with the fear of feeling this profound sadness by being so close. Among my colleagues, that's the biggest concern.

"No one wants to feel that," she continued. "We're almost afraid to feel that, and it's going to be right there. Emotionally, I think this will be very difficult."

The building's management company, Brookfield Financial Properties, is gauging what occupancy will be after the attacks. The chief executive of Brookfield, Richard B. Clark, said he recognized that "a number of firms that had to take temporary space have the latitude to take their time before coming back." He added, "I think it will take a month or so before people come back in."

But no firm "has said for sure that they're not coming back," he said. "No one has said that for certain yet."

While no tenant may have released plans about a move, a persistent problem downtown is that many firms have not decided yet, or have not announced their intentions, according to an online brokerage firm that specializes in downtown office space, TenantWise.com.

According to M. Myers Mermel, the chief executive of TenantWise.com, a number of firms at 1 Liberty Plaza may fall into this category.

Mr. Mermel said he concluded from his surveys that only 12 percent of tenants who leased more than 10,000 square feet of space in destroyed or damaged buildings had committed to returning to Lower Manhattan.

That might be because the logistics of working so close to ground zero present their own set of challenges.

Allen Kaye, an immigration lawyer who had offices on the 23rd floor of 1 Liberty Plaza, is temporarily operating from Midtown and said he might like to stay farther up the island. "I've been downtown for 20 years," he said. "There's always been a difference in uptown and downtown cultures, but now it's like a war zone down there, with tourists gawking with cameras and policemen everywhere. It's all very spooky."

Before Sept. 11, Mr. Kaye decided to move to another downtown building, on Broadway. He was in temporary space at 1 Liberty Plaza. Now he is reconsidering downtown altogether. "I've been down to Liberty Plaza twice, both times with a police escort and through a freight elevator," Mr. Kaye said. "I'm wondering, do my clients need a police escort?"

Among the buildings in the area, 1 Liberty Plaza was unusual because of the numerous erroneous news reports, including one broadcast on CNN, that the building had collapsed. In fact, the building also had its own rumor mill and its own running joke, which made its way up from the street all the way to the Department of Buildings: "Oops, Liberty Plaza just collapsed again."

But just about the only kinds of repairs that the building needed were the replacement of hundreds of windows that had been blown out on its western facade and the removal of heavy dust and debris.

But now, issues about access are still being worked through, Mr. Clark said. "Clearly, it won't be as good as before Sept. 11," he said, noting that the Church Street entrance will be closed for months. "But we think under the circumstances, it will not be bad. Having had the opportunity to go down there, I see progress and positive things myself."

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

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