On the Town   


Building Freedom Tower

May 2006 Installment of the Monthly Journal 

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

By Dick Sheppard

Week Ending May 12, 2006 – There was an informative article in the May 8th New York Times about the start of Freedom Tower construction apart from the comparatively low-level of above-ground, observable activity. Besides the visible scraping of the bottom of the Freedom Tower quadrant by a couple of pieces of heavy equipment, there is activity afoot beyond public view. In the adjoining PATH tunnels which lead from the WTC site right at the base of the Freedom Tower footprint, utility infrastructure and surveying are underway in preparation for placing the columns from which Freedom Tower will rise. While this work is not visible, it’s encouraging. The article quotes builder Larry Silverstein’s offices as assuring that Freedom Tower steel will reach street grade (that is, be at street level) sometime in 2007. I can only say, the earlier the better. While it’s great to see the gritty start of work, only with the tangible reality of a rising steel structure will I gain comfort from anticipating a restored Lower Manhattan skyline.

One observation about the overall WTC site which is an ongoing kick in the shorts for those who seek visible defiance of what transpired therein nearly five years ago. Apart from the rebuilt temporary PATH station, the site looks like any mundane, fenced off construction site. This is annoying by itself, but every time it rains to any extent, and over the past few days there’s been some good downpours, the “bathtub” portion of the site floods (the containment walls designed to keep the Hudson River out of the site obviously keeps water in). The square outlines which delineate the footprints of the former WTC get sloshed, and the affect is sloppy and undignified. Right now (5/16/06) is a gloomy wet day; but some good news: there’s visible work regardless of weather on the Freedom Tower quadrant, truck moving muddy dirt around, and some drilling rigs going about some business. Larry Silverstein was treated quite shabbily by the politicians and media during the decision-making about the WTC rebuild. Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg were especially (and unforgivably) odious in the comments about Larry. 

They garnered political points and injected themselves into the process for publicity-grubbing ego alone. Larry so far is the only one who has built the first defiant sign of rebirth (7 WTC). And you know, as an elderly guy, he wants to get  Freedom Tower upstanding, that he will preside in the lobby at its none-too-soon opening. He may be an ornery Manhattan real estate magnate, but the guy is building Freedom Tower and deserves all of the rooting and rahhing I can muster. 

May 3, 2006 – From twenty-nine stories up in the Liberty Plaza tower directly across from the World Trade Center site, there is activity in the Freedom Tower quadrant. Over the past few days, there was some equipment (two excavators and a front-loader) and workers present, but not too much visual transforming evidence. It over the past few days that it appeared that the primary activity was stripping concrete from the bottom of the original WTC bathtub which encloses the foundation pit.  

Today it is clear that they are stripping this foundation floor. Like scraping linoleum to make way for a newer floor, there is now a considerable bare spot in the Freedom Tower quadrant, they’ve reached, “dirt bottom” as it were. They are making a neat pile of the cleared concrete and dirt. At 3pm, there was a conference of hardhats near the excavator, including the excavator operator. Following this brief get-together, a few hardhats ambled over the the trailer-office against the west bathtub wall, and a couple jumped in pickups and left. It looked like the excavator would call it a day too, but he continued past 3pm ….

May 2, 2006 – After last Thursday’s (4/27) comparatively quiet gathering to mark the building of Freedom Tower, there has been some activity down below. There are a few excavators and a grader, not too many workers. Just today there’s some drilling rigs on site, and it looks like some of the concrete flooring of the “bathtub” has been stripped away and some digging begun. 

Along the west bathtub wall, and the north, there are still remnants of the underground parking garage which was beneath the original WTC. It was among these levels that the first WTC bombing in February, 1993 occurred. I had heard that these garage remnants were kept in place to hold up the bathtub wall; if so, then there should be evidence soon of their removal to make room for the Freedom Tower’s foundation. While most would be perfectly happy to see the original Twin Towers still standing in their former glory, still we pray for a replacement true and worthy.  

Newly Completed 7 WTC

Last Thursday’s (4/27) Freedom Tower “groundbreaking” was actually the second time that event has happened, which is why it was done so inconspicuously as of the officials are embarrassed with their delays. The original groundbreaking took place in July 2004, when a huge engrave block was placed in the Freedom Tower quadrant, only to sit there unbuilt upon as the politicians postured. Since I’ve had my new view of the site, I’ve looked for that original cornerstone; the mainstream media reports it has been encased in plywood and though still onsite, has been moved. Sure enough, there it is, hidden from embarrassment, in its plywood case just south of the temporary PATH station. One hopes it will soon assume it’s proper place in the Freedom Tower structure.

Simultaneously with the Freedom Tower build, preliminary work has begun on the WTC Memorial. For the sake of sanity, this diary will only encompass the likely many details and intricacies of the Freedom Tower build. Perhaps the Memorial story will be covered elsewhere.

Former Deutsch Bank Building, 
aka the Pataki-Bloomberg Building.

April 27, 2006 - After a horrific amount of negotiations among the feckless, glory-hogging politicians of New York, New Jersey, and PATH, building developer Larry Silverstein has agreed to build the Freedom Tower, which will then be turned over to a governmental agency (PATH and NY State) for leasing. Silverstein, who has taken a lot of heat and insults from the clueless politicians during the negotiations, has already rebuilt 7 World Trade Center, replacing the structure which was the last to fall on the sorrowful evening of  9/11/01. The rebuilt 7 World Trade soars sleek and gleaming 750 feet and 52 stories above the still empty and cavernous World Trade Center site. 

Visually, it is a completely different building from the previous 7 World Trade Center, which was a reddish stone-covered building that sat astride lower Greenwich Street, blocking access to the Trade Center complex from that Tribeca thoroughfare. And it should be noted that although the new 7 World Trade Center sits atop a huge Con Ed electrical substation (as did the previous 7 World Trade Center ), the architects created a visually pleasing effect for those first 5-7 stories of the new tower. Only a crank would say 7 World Trade Center isn’t a lovely building of itself, beyond being a wonderful symbol of commercial redemption. If the remainder of the Trade Center site rebuild goes as well and looks as good as 7 WTC, then NYC has superior good luck despite the delays. Go Larry!

The new 7 World Trade Center is a light and airy glass parallelogram - a worthy first step in the World Trade rebuild. The new structure doesn’t block southern Greenwich Street, which now continues past the new 7 WTC entrance and will ultimately connect through to the  rebuilt Trade Center site. Developer Silverstein included a small, pleasant park and fountain as part of the building’s plaza. For all of the self-serving abuse he’s taken from the spotlight-grubbing politicians - NY governor George Pataki, NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, and NJ governor Jon Corzine - Silverstein is the only one who has contributed a tangible result in the rebuilding process.

Unfortunately, the shiny new 7WTC sits directly across from one of Lower Manhattan’s grimmest 9/11 remnants, the skeletal remains of City University of New York’s Fiterman Hall. Politically asinine negotiations over the fate of that doomed building have held up its up its ultimate demolition. From here, the delay could probably just as easily be placed on the CUNY administrators who were looking for a jumbo insurance payout. And there was political haggling too, with Pataki offering his clumsy, self-image conscious advice. Fiterman Hall’s presence is a further insult to Mr. Silverman, as potential 7WTC leasers have that pathetic edifice glowering at them as they consider their space options. As of April 2006, there was a demolition plan for Fiterman Hall in place, subject to still further environmental reviews.

To digress for a moment on from the pure rebuilding aspect, if ever there was a time when George Pataki’s dreamworld imaginings of becoming president went out the window, it was during his totally incompetent handling of the Trade Center rebuild. Even as he injected himself into the process (undoubtedly for the pure political gains he would receive), his bungling participation brought no positives to the rebuild. And as for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also seeking immortality in any association with a rebuild which has nothing to do with his office, his whiny bleatings in the press demonstrated that for all the money he has, he’s still politically tone-deaf. He is a rich, diminutive man who couldn’t fill the gigantic shoes required of his office if he wore triple-height shoe lifts instead of the single-heights he probably wears already. He was elected to improve education and consolidate the gains made by Rudy Giuliani in public safety and overall city livability; he was not elected WTC rebuild czar – or even princeling – as he supposes.



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