The World Trade Center and the Port Authority

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Above is a view of what remained after most of the debris had been cleared from the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings. The destroyed buildings had been built and owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, whose initial mandate was to manage joint transit projects.

The resulting rebuilding, also involving the port authority, has been messy and expensive.

Rudolph Giuliani, the mayor in late 2001, said he believed the entire site should have been set aside as a memorial; the sentiment was understandable, but impractical. The incoming mayor, Michael Bloomberg, favored conversion of the area into housing, always in short supply in New York.

Over time, the plan became to build new office buildings on the site, if only to show the bastards that America would come back better than ever.

One World Trade Center

In 2005, the decision was taken to replace one of the towers with One World Trade Center. The budget was set at a very high $2 billion.

Nine years later, the first tenants began to move in. The building was the tallest in the United States, a symbolic 1,776 feet. The cost had ballooned to somewhere between $3.8 billion and $3.9 billion. It was and remains the most expensive office building in the world.

(Meanwhile, a taller [2,700-foot], larger [80 percent more floor space] building was constructed in six years in Dubai for $1.5 billion. Construction and regulation costs are no doubt less in the UAE, but 40-mph elevators and an on-site Armani-designed hotel don’t come cheap.)

As of this summer, the new trade center tower was 69 percent leased. Posted rents were 50 percent higher than in neighboring buildings, but the port authority cut the premium to about 40 percent for space in the middle floors. Apparently rents are higher on the top floors, where the views are the grandest. (I wonder: Even 15 years later, are there any firms eager to lease space on or above the 90th floor in New York?)

The building is expected to be fully leased by sometime in 2019.

The Transit Hub

The 9/11 wreckage also included a transit hub underneath the twin towers. The port authority commissioned a famous (also famous-for-overruns) architect and planned a $2 billion train station. By the time it was finished in 2015, the cost had grown to $4 billion.

The train station is showy and has a beautiful, airy hall that includes a shopping mall. The mall’s prospects were called into doubt, however, by the famous retail analyst, Paco Underhill. In several visits, he wrote, he noticed only about one in 20 visitors were carrying shopping bags.

The Museum

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is said to be very well done. Construction costs were $700 million, and annual operating costs are $68 million. Admission is a firm $24, almost as high as the Metropolitan Museum’s “suggested donation” of $25. Fifty years from now, I wonder, will people still be flocking to the museum in such numbers? Will the $5 million operating cost of the two dramatic square fountains have lessened?

Two World Trade Center

A second, slightly smaller tower is in the planning stages. It is of a different design, arguably more complex than than the now-opened building, also beautiful. There have been hints that its construction might be more expensive than that of 1WTC was.

The Port Authority

In 2012, the Port Authority announced a 56 percent increase over three years in bridge and tunnel tolls, in part to pay for WTC construction. It now costs $15 to drive your car through the Lincoln Tunnel and back; the George Washington Bridge fare is $13.

In fact, the authority has other projects on its plate:

— Updating LaGuardia Airport, a public-private project began last summer. In June, the governor of New York announced the total cost would be $7 billion. One month later, the cost projection was increased to $8 billion.

— Updating and/or replacing the 66-year-old midtown bus terminal is a new priority. The cost was projected at $5 billion to $8 billion a couple years ago. More recent estimates run as high as $15 billion.

— Raising the Bayonne Bridge’s road clearance to allow newer, taller cargo ships to berth at area ports started in 2013. The expected completion date, originally 2017, has been pushed back to 2019.

–Another Hudson River tunnel between New Jersey and New York is needed for an estimated doubling of interstate traffic over the next 15 years, but finding the money, $20 billion, is proving difficult. In addition, officials have warned that either or both the Holland and Lincoln tunnels may need yearlong closures in the next 20 years for maintenance and repair of damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was established in 1921 to concentrate on mutual major transit projects. The idea was that a single agency would be more efficient, saving money and time on major projects.

In March, the current chairman said it was time for the group to get back to its mission.

“The time has long since passed for us to be building new buildings,” he said. “We ought to sell any real estate we have that isn’t related to the transportation mission and leverage the money we get from that.”

Sounds right to me.

Note

A man I know is friends with several New York fireman and visits the city for each 9/11 anniversary. This year he filmed the following piece, whose first and last sections are views from the new One World Trade Center building.

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