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Building Freedom Tower

March 2007 Installment of the Monthly Journal 

[Read the sidebar, Building Freedom Tower -- The Journal for introduction]

By Dick Sheppard

Friday, March 16, 2007

…An entire island being rebuilt

There is so much construction activity in Lower Manhattan, it feels as if the entire bottom of the island is being rebuilt. Perhaps that is a misconception on my part, because much of the construction occurs directly on my daily byways between WTC and One Liberty Plaza, and directly at Liberty Plaza on Cortland Street. Yet for anybody paying attention, the level of construction in such a confined space is noteworthy for its breadth and scope. Primarily commercial, the new construction includes several projects nearby my Liberty Plaza office. Just from glancing down from our west-facing windows, looking from south-to-north, there's a roughly 50-story hotel and office project about to start rising from a foundation at Washington Street between Carlisle and Albany Streets. This is diagonally across the street from my old BNY stomping grounds at 110 Washington Street (the former Dorothy Schiff New York Post building, now condos). As the Deutsche Bank building just north across the street from that project is disassembled, it will open a magnificent view out over New Jersey. But the new project will correspondingly rise and re-block that vista. I'm not sure when our office lease is up, two years I think, and so I'm not sure if we'll even be around for the finishing of that new hotel/office tower. Though there hasn't been any tower-crane work on the Deutsche building, workers are stripping the upper stories of windows and other impedimenta in anticipation of removing the steel infrastructure. Considered another way, you imagine the Deutsche Bank building looks as if it's nearly finished being built, instead of being taken down. A sad thought. I sense that the tower crane will be removing steel soon, though Deutsch work has been held up for union issues and ongoing environmental and human remains questions. I hate to see any further buildings lost to 9/11/01, but go it will.

Major street-level projects

At street level, there are three major projects. First as you come out of the WTC station, you're looking at the work on Church Street and mainly at Dey Street, above and alongside the R/N subway tracks, which run under Church.

Down Under Cortland and Broadway

 When this underground site is uncovered, it's a fascinating peek down into where an entire hub will connect the WTC station to the N/R trains and past that up Dey Street to the Fulton Street Station a block east and north on Broadway. 

You can see workers 3-4 stories down, digging and shoring. You can also just glimpse the subway tracks themselves, a reminder of just how tricky the project is. When finished, the entire WTC/Fulton Street hub will truly be a 21st century transportation wonder: access to 12 subway lines and the PATH. And even beyond to connect both the WTC and Fulton Street stations under Vesey Street with the World Financial Center.

Dey Street, under which the passage from WTC to the Fulton Street Station will run, remains closed to vehicular traffic. Pedestrians can still use Dey's south sidewalk, which from Church leads east to the next massive work center, at Dey and Broadway. The east side of Broadway from Fulton to John Street is entirely off-limits, they taking buildings down to accommodate the Fulton Street Station. 

Dey Street closed looking east to Broadway. The connecting passage from WTC to Fulton Street Station will run under this street

Just as on Church and Dey, the Broadway and Dey passage up to the Fulton Station will link many subway lines, especially the 4,5,6 Lexington lines. Number 200 Broadway, just south of a 2-story building right on the southeast corner of Fulton - which contained I think clothing retailers, is torn down. That leaves a gap in the east Broadway streetscape from 198 Broadway - a narrow 11-story building, to the two-story corner building at Fulton and Broadway. Eventually both these building will come down, too, along with the old 3-story Houlihans south of 198 Broadway and north of the lovely to-be-preserved Corbin Building at John and Broadway. Here too the understreet realm is open for fascinating view.

Further south, on the west side of Broadway at Cortland Street, and directly next to Liberty Plaza, a final underground link is being dug. Here, too, where the street is mostly open full time, crews work far underground. They even use a mini-bulldozer down there, and sometimes the onsite backhoe extends its grapple arm all the way down under Cortland, I suppose to help the mini-dozer in digging out dirt. I don't think we could build anything without backhoes; especially now they have all sorts of specialized attachments allowing all sorts of tasks. As always, it's a fun peek into the realm of underground Manhattan, with pipes and cables running who knows where. This work at Broadway and Cortland closes Cortland to vehicular traffic completely and pedestrian traffic just on the southwest corner or Broadway/Cortland. Cortland ran east-to-west, to compensate for Cortland being closed, Liberty Street, on the other side of Liberty Plaza, is a two-way east/west thoroughfare, whereas previously it was one-way eastbound. I suspect when all the projects are finished, Liberty may remain two-way. It seems a natural flow of traffic.

The building just in front of the hanging metallic tube - now gone

Vehicles and people get around 

I think the planning and re-routing of pedestrian and vehicular traffic is pretty good. Crews use barricades made from a massive wooden beam base with fence-like wood and fabric atop it to guide pedestrians around the construction zones and separate them from vehicular traffic. Vehicular traffic is usually two lanes on Broadway, sometimes one. People and vehicles get around pretty well considering the significant nature and breadth of the work. Shunting and chuting can't be avoided given the location of the activity. We might all take some solace that when the job is done, we'll all get around much easier, underground often and weather-proof, too!

Building Everywhere, but Freedom Tower

Returning to Freedom Tower and environs. Within the confines of the existing west bathtub, visible progress on Freedom Tower itself is stopped. There's infrastructure and foundation work going on, but the lone columns erected with such fanfare months back remain unaccompanied by further columns or cross-beam structures. As mentioned in an earlier entry, this slowdown might be intentional and beneficial, as maddening as delays in restoring the mighty skyline are. Manhattan real estate is presently super white-hot. 

Deals abound and office towers are changing hands in what some might be considered a bubblicious manner. So the thought is: finish the east bathtub, where work goes on I think around the clock. 

The business end of a milling machine

Finish the east side of the WTC rebuild, get the three Church Street towers started and leasing up. Let deep-pocket investors and NYC's real estate titans "prove" that the WTC site can again be a commercially desirable, if not a highly sought address. 

Let Larry Silverstein do for the Church Street towers what he's doing with 7WTC - which is nearly 70% leased. Under this build-other-buildings -first scenario, the present plans for stuffing Freedom Tower with government tenants (thereby lessening it's appeal to commercial tenants), might subside. The Port Authority could well sell Freedom Tower even as it's being built, probably a desirable outcome. "We'll see."

Creating the east bathtub wall continues as economic news and maneuverings on the buildings themselves signal private interest; which had just taken hold at the original WTC when they were destroyed, and might yet shape its rebuilding. 

Cortland Street and Broadway

Working like blazes

By far the busiest sector of the WTC construction zone is south part of the western bathtub, just where the PATH train enters into the site. Here, which I describe as the Memorial quadrant or footprint, activity is blazing. I'm not sure if they're going around the clock with skeleton crews, but entering that zone at 7am on the PATH train reveals scores of guys and several of the ubiquitous backhoes already working and pounding away. Pounding the backhoe jackhammers down into the schist. It's almost comical to note that there's so much digging into the schist, you'd think they were drilling to China rather than "building" anything! It sure is fascinating watching these rock cuts, and in some cuts concrete and rebar is emplaced. It's still too early to say what construction is what, or how a given bathtub floor structure will fit into the final, completed Memorial. But be assured they are working like blazes on that Memorial quadrant.

Finally across West Street, on the west side of West Street and north side of Vesey, the Goldman Sachs building steel rises fast. It is already well above the foundation, and two tower cranes pick and place the columns and beams. Goldman's desire to finish that building pronto I think exemplifies the super white-hot real estate market in Lower Manhattan. Goldman wants that building up fast, perhaps for themselves, perhaps to give themselves a selling option. Goodness knows the big investment banks in New York have been having field years lo these past several: money abounds. Watching the Goldman Building rise shows an example of how fast construction happens, once in full swing. I want to see that upwards rising on the Freedom Tower. I'm hopeful, maybe confident, that when that time comes, Freedom Tower will soar smartly skywards and redeem our absent bygone towers.


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