New York City’s construction market took a plunge after Sept. 11, but electrical contractors are expecting it to bounce back with the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.
“There’s not a lot of new buildings coming up out of the ground right now, so that’s why Ground Zero from an economic standpoint will be very good for New York,” said Jim Usher, vice president of communications for E-J Electric Installation Co., Long Island City, N.Y. “When the World Trade Center complex gets going, if they build anything close to what was there, I would guess that all the major electrical contractors will be involved. That’s how huge that project will be.”
While the rebuilding of the World Trade Center is a personal issue for thousands of people, it will economically serve the best interests of the city of New York, said Usher, who was working at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
“That amount of real estate in lower Manhattan is not going to sit idle,” he said. “With Manhattan being a small, tiny island, all that space is comparatively huge. It will be good for the city from a construction standpoint. Once it gets going, there will be a lot of building for a long time.”
Almost a year later, however, plans for rebuilding the World Trade Center are far from being finalized. Usher describes the task as “Mission Impossible.”
“There’s no way they are going to rebuild Ground Zero and make all the different organizations happy. Everybody has a different idea—from the size of the memorial all the way up to how many square feet of office space should be rebuilt. Should it be a couple of big towers again or should it be low-rise towers? It’s really split and Mayor Bloomberg has a heck of a job with the Port Authority to bring this together, get consensus and go forward.”
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. unveiled six initial proposals in mid-July. Each called for 11 million sq ft of office space, a 600,000-sq-ft hotel, 600,000 sq ft of retail space and a transportation hub serving New York and New Jersey. New York City Architect Beverly Willis said they were trying to jam too much on the site.
“They were trying to put everything back on the site that was there before and more,” she said. “They added more office and retail space and wanted to include a memorial park, a museum and cultural facilities.”
Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners, a New York architectural and planning firm, designed each plan with 60-story to 80-story office towers that were grouped around a memorial. Willis said the architecture firm followed the economic program as outlined in the lease, and they applied it to all six plans, which accounted for their similarity.
“The program contributed to making the plans very bland,” Willis said. “It was just a rulebook application of a retail mall and almost rectangular high-rise buildings, which were all very tall, uniform and in every way—bland.”
The space that was allotted for a memorial wound up looking like it was a park for the office buildings.
“The financial people who would possibly work in those buildings were saying, ‘I don’t want to work in a building next to a graveyard,’ Willis said. “It became apparent that there has to be a gradation between the commercial use of the site and the emotions evoked by the memorial because they are just two different things.”
Because the six plans lacked creativity and did not rise to the occasion, the city had to go back to the drawing board, Willis said.
“With my background as an architect, I was fascinated by the fact that all the people, regardless of age or income group, recognized that these plans were all very bland and uninspiring,” she said. “The public clearly wanted something as heroic as the heroic efforts of the individuals who were involved in the rescue effort. To simply treat this like another mega real-estate project does not fit the mood of the people.”
In August, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the Port Authority announced an international design competition, in which five teams will be selected to create designs for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. Willis, cofounder of Rebuild Downtown Our Town (R.DOT), a coalition of lower Manhattan residents, businesses, associations, architects and designers, said R.DOT has been calling for an international design competition from the very beginning.
“We’re elated with this turn of events,” Willis said.
To further development in lower Manhattan and allow the designers more creativity, the city of the New York and the Port Authority are considering a land swap. If the plan is approved, the city will trade the land under the JFK and LaGuardia airports for the WTC site, which is now owned by the Port Authority. Willis said the civic groups think the land swap is a brilliant idea.
“It changes the focus to lower Manhattan as opposed to the World Trade Center site,” she said. “Getting the Port Authority out of the World Trade Center site and into the airport site will economically serve the best interest of the city of New York.”
While the plans for rebuilding Ground Zero are far from completion, No. 7 World Trade is currently under construction. R. DOT’s Willis said the building was a tradeoff between Con Edison, the developer and the community.
“The community was not excited about the building, but by the same token, it is compact and opens up Greenwich Street,” she said. “Because there was a major concession made in terms of how the building was sited, the community approved a taller building. It’s a blank wall parallelogram, but it’s tucked amongst some existing buildings.”
The building, which will be off the Ground Zero site and north of the former Tower 1, will serve the electrical needs of the surrounding buildings.
“Seven World Trade contained multiple ConEd substations in the lower levels,” Usher said. “Of course, that was all destroyed and there is a real need to get that piece going. From a construction standpoint, that is definitely priority one.”
ConEd and Tishman Construction Corp. are now looking to hire an electrical contractor for Phase 1 of the project. The winner is expected to be announced in early September, and the work will commence in the weeks following Labor Day.
“The project is going forward, the bids are out on the street and we’ve responded,” Usher said. “It’s going to be done in several phases, but the first phase will be to work with ConEd and get the feeder conduit in for five new and five future substations.”
In Phase 1, the electricians will set up all the pipe and conduit needed to run all the electrical, telephone and security service to feed the entire building. Usher said it will be a fast-track project. “They have to get this substation built before office towers and everything else goes up,” he said. “ConEd is trying to move as fast as humanly possible.”
The construction on No. 7 World Trade should be wrapped up in the next year, Willis said.
“They are shooting for a deadline of summer 2003,” Willis said. “That will be completed five years before the other buildings. I think it will be 10 or 15 years before the site is rebuilt completely.” The city has been focusing on the World Trade Center site, but it also needs to shift its attention to the development of Lower Manhattan, Willis said.
“We have been calling from day one for a masterplan for all of Lower Manhattan,” she said. “We feel that you cannot correctly evaluate a development on the World Trade Center site without looking at the surrounding area. If the focus continues to be on the World Trade Center site and nothing is being done to revitalize lower Manhattan, then I think one year from now, we’ll be exactly where we are today.”