On the Town   

 

Lunch on Larry

By Dick Sheppard

May 18, 2006 – I had read in one of the papers yesterday that Sheldon Silver, the grossly overpowered Speaker of the New York State Assembly, was going to be holding hearings today on the 25th floor of the first building to arise from 9/11, 7 World Trade Center. The meetings began at 10:30am, and I was hoping to stop over even briefly; but my morning’s work occupied me and I was resigned to not going.   

7 World Trade Center is the first WTC building rebuilt; scheduled to be opened Wed, May 24, 2006

But as the morning progressed, I was exchanging emails with my web pard Lou V. who was watching these same hearings on TV, I guess channel NY 1. Realizing that the hearings were going to go through lunch, I happily and correctly figured that I could scoot over there and at least get a look inside the brand new, soon-to-be-opened 7 WTC. So on this marvelous sunny spring day, off I went.

On arrival at the 7 WTC lobby, I presented myself as a public-hearing attendee, and was prepared to hand over my driver’s license, a normal identity requirement when entering buildings Post 9/11. But the guard didn’t take it and instead punched in the numbers “25” on a panel near his desk. He then told me to board a specific elevator. I thought it was odd that I didn’t have to give him i.d. (maybe there was heavy traffic for the hearing, but it was pretty quiet when I arrived).  I went to and boarded the elevator he specified. I have to guess that elevator was only going to go to 25 and would not stop elsewhere. It had a light on the side of the door displaying “25.” As I’m on my way up, I notice there’s no floor buttons inside the elevator. More about that below.

On arrival on the 25th floor, I walked down a short corridor to the hearing room, which was set up with chairs facing a sort of dais on which Sheldon Silver and a few others were holding court. Plenty of political and media types around, a lot of well-dressed people, executive/lawyer types. Money interests. There were about a hundred people all told, I had supposed it might be better attended but then again, this was a sort of Shelly Silver kangaroo court; most of the battling had occurred last month with the Pataki/Bloomberg axis and Larry finally hammering out a deal that enabled at least the start of Freedom Tower construction. Nothing major was going to be decided today (see NOTE below), this was Shelly asking questions and unnecessarily torturing my man Larry and wasting time Larry could surely have been using better even if he was sitting home knitting. I saw these hearings as a splendid opportunity to gain admittance into 7 WTC, a building I’ve come to love for it’s provocative reality of post 9/11 renewal. (These kinds of events are why I am thrilled to be back in Manhattan, you can go see  Broads in Plastic Tutus see elsewhere on this site one day, and watch pols tormenting important business officials the next.)

The hearing was being held in an unfinished open floor of the tower, on the building’s north side, wrapping around the east and west sides. The view north is directly over Tribeca toward the distant but inspiring conglomeration of midtown towers, anchored by the Empire State Building, shining magnificently in the sun. The view east is at the  New York City Municipal Building and Woolworth Building – just spectacular. West, you’re looking at the towers of the World Financial Center, the Hudson, and New Jersey beyond – marvelous. Larry is asking the highest rents ever for a Downtown building and I hope he comes close to getting them. Even unfinished, with exposed beams and bare flooring, the views and practically floor-to-ceiling windows made the space gorgeous.

As I got my bearings near the back, where it looked like a lot of the print media were congregating, I discovered that the guy in the hot seat at the front table facing the dais of pompous pols was none other than Larry Silverstein. Larry is the leaseholder of the World Trade Center, who was awarded that now-dubious prize a few weeks before it was destroyed. The runner-up for that lease was Boston Properties, owned by none other than Mort Zuckerman, who owned the printing company which ceremoniously canned me in March, 2006. Larry was also the builder of the just-finished 7 World Trade Center we were all present in, and the named builder of the Freedom Tower directly next door. Like nothing new, a politician (in this case Silver and not the usual Pataki/Bloomberg axis) was giving Larry a hard time, generally peppering the guy with showboating I’m-smart questions which Larry was patiently answering.

Some words about Larry. I obviously don’t know the guy but I like him. I don’t know the gritty details about the nuts-and-bolts of the contract over which the state, city, Port Authority, and Larry are fighting. He’s been tarred as being greedy for wanting to protect his interests – which includes retail space which is unwanted by some who favor more memorial/museum/cultural space. He doesn’t come across too well in the media, but you can tell in his presence the guy is smart and a no bs guy who must pander to and tolerate the idiot politicians trying to make hay off him. In his non-media friendly way Larry was explaining things about “retail space, insurance proceeds, negotiations, the PA, etc.” From my perspective, it was meaningless blather to service the grandstanding pols. Larry built the building we were all sitting in, his bulldozers were prepping the Freedom Tower site directly below, and no one shoulda been able to say word one to this accomplished man about real estate development.  

Bringing the Hittable Broads In-House

Only a few minutes after I arrived, the panel adjourned for lunch, and I sure wasn’t going to let an opportunity slip. I spotted my man Larry making his way toward the corridor. I was right over there, and as he walked by, stated, “Don’t let them discourage you Larry – keep building!” He acknowledged me by chuckling. He looked good, too, well-suited and vigorous for a man of his years. Especially after having to put up with the likes of a true greedhound like Shelly Silver. I chatted with a few people and I determined among the attractive women present a few were affiliated with the Speaker’s office. They were very good looking and did not look at all like the smart, sharky-looking private money people milling around. These Shelly broads looked like window-dressing for the all-powerful Assembly Speaker. I suspect these broads could not type, file anything besides their nails, or even dial a phone.

(Gee I wonder what the hell is going on with these dames and Shelly? These broads have to be mattress pals pure and simple. If not for Shelly, then for some of his additional male staff. Shelly had a problem a few years back with one of his top staffers being accused of date-raping some poor girl. Shelly may have learned his lesson and now works around this problem by bringing the hittable broads in-house, right onto his staff, where everybody keeps their mouths shut and stays happy. Must cost a fortune but when you’re Shelly Silver, it’s worth it. It’s not like he’s paying these broads with anyone else’s money but the taxpayers’.)

The lunch break afforded me an opportunity to wander the entire 25th floor, including the south portion where there were several models/drawings on display. Larry and a guy who looked like a publicist or attorney stood alongside a model of the entire proposed rebuilt Trade Center development. This included models of Freedom Tower and the three towers which will arise on the east portion of the site along Church Street. The south side of 7WTC also allows a view looking directly down onto my beloved Freedom Tower site, where, doubtless in coincidence with the hearings, lots of activity was underway.   

From directly above, and I mean directly above from 7 WTC, one can see the delineation of the Freedom Tower footprint, where the concrete flooring of the “bathtub” has been stripped away and is now being leveled. Unlike at the proposed Memorial site, which is still being fought over and has unseemly standing water after it rains, the Freedom Tower crews have set up a pumping hose that keeps the site neat and dry. You like to see pride in the workplace, a spiffy site.

Models of the Freedom Tower and the other new towers to be built along side. 

Footprint of north tower of World Trade Center, as seen from above on the 25th floor of the new 7 World Trade Center.  

Also on the south side of 7 WTC, you could wander right into the offices of the architects who are designing the three behemoth towers which will arise along Church Street on the east side of the site. If Freedom Tower is unofficially “Tower One,” then the Church Street Towers, (two of which will be nearly as tall as the Empire State Building), are presently designated Towers 2, 3, and 4. The tower which will be built where the condemned Deutsche Bank building presently stands is, for now, Tower 5. Towers 2, 3, and 4 are being designed by three different architectural teams that are working side-by-side to bring some harmony to the buildings. Realistically, the Church Street towers depicted in the display model will not look as they are depicted.

Larry's Nephew  

Throughout the break, people were milling around and except for the suits who were hearing participants the atmosphere was informal. Best of all, there was one hellacious of a buffet set up in an unguarded conference room right on the corner of the building that adjoins the Freedom Tower site. In the face of that bounty, way too few people were tying on the feedbag; and the presence of the food was enough of an invitation itself. As usual in this kind of setting, there was no one “in charge.” If you acted like you belonged, you belonged. As I entered the conference room and thoughtfully considered my dining options, I was prepared to answer, “I’m Larry’s nephew” if anyone asked. Nobody did, so I helped myself to some yummy roast beef sandwiches, a few cans of Coke, and several dessert brownies. Lunch on Larry! Did I mention, I love the guy!

As I wrote earlier, the 7 WTC elevators don’t have floor buttons in the cabs. Instead, in the elevator lobby, there’s a little LCD display. It reads, “Enter your floor.” So instead of just pushing an up or down button to summon the elevator, there’s a number pad on which you enter the floor you’re going to. This is kinda neat. It likely makes the computerized elevators much more efficient by telling them in advance where you’re going. Then, when the elevator shows up, to make sure you’re getting on the right one, the display indicates with an arrow and letter designation which elevator is going to take you where your going. The side of the elevator door itself displays the floor number where it’s headed. It is disconcerting, though, when you are in the elevator and there’s only a few buttons, to open and close the door, and an emergency button. Wave of the present, I guess. 

And like many high-rise buildings residential and commercial, 7WTC fibs on the floor numbers. From looking at 7WTC from my own offices, and using the Barclay-Vesey building alongside 7 as a measuring guide from when I was in 7WTC, I surmise that although 7WTC numbering says I was on the 25th floor, I was really on the 16th level. Taking into account that there is about a 7-8 story base for 7WTC which contains the Con Ed substation, above that, it looks like you count about 16 floors which puts you on maybe floor 23-24, but they say 25. A lot of buildings “add” floors by giving floors a higher number, which translates into higher prestige and higher rents. It’s not a big deal, a little marketing smoke-and-mirrors. The views are still superlative.

Lou Reed and the Great Builder 

7 World Trade Center opens officially on May 23 with an outdoor concert which will feature Lou Reed (a well-known Tribeca/Downtown musician/denizen), the one-legged Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan (I’m mad at him because he never answered emails I sent him), and something fetchingly and invitingly called the “Brazil Girls.” Larry has built a little park/plaza out in front of 7WTC – “Vesey Park.” The park’s centerpiece is a circular plaza surrounded by benches. I’m not sure if this small plaza will contain a fountain, but the observant will notice this arrangement mimics the much grander, circular fountain which graced the center of the Austin Tobin Plaza at the heart of the original World Trade Center complex. Today, there was a blue tarp covering the centerpiece sculpture of Vesey Park. One will have to wait until the unveiling, but this might also recall the “Sphere” sculpture at the center of the Tobin Plaza. 

The “Sphere” has been relocated to Battery Park. I plan on going to the grand 7 WTC opening with a sign that either reads, “THANKS, LARRY!” or “I (heart) LARRY!” I will settle for nothing less than getting my picture with this Great Builder.  

I think 7 World Trade Center is a beautiful, lovely building in its own right, but I generally prefer more stately, classic architecture. So I can’t say that 7 World Trade Center will ever be my “favorite.” From certain angles, it has an appealing way of reflecting the blue sky, and sometimes you can view one side of the building from a straight-on angle and it looks like a façade with nothing behind it. This is a very dramatic and pleasing effect. I reserve as favorites several pre-war (WW2) towers, generally stone-clad structures like the Empire State Building, One Wall Street, the Woolworth, and the old RCA (current GE) Building at Rock Center. However, for the rebirth that 7 WTC represents, for Larry’s defiance in the face of bickering delaying pols, and for its soaring presence at the heart of previous despair, I will cherish this building among those which enliven my heart. 7 World Trade Center is human engineering which inspires beyond words.

NOTE: Press reports today (5/19/06) indicate that the main revelations of the 5/18/06 Silver v. Silverstein hearings at 7WTC was that there may be an issue with insurance proceeds. It seems that the deal which was cut between Larry, state agencies, and the Port Authority to divvy up building ownerships and rights, etc. may affect the desire of insurance companies to pay out the proceeds needed to continue building the WTC site. This is abhorrent news to come out so late in this process, although some reports suggest that when the WTC was insured, the Port Authority was named as a “co-insuree,” along with Larry. If insurance proceeds stop, building will stop, they said as much yesterday at the hearings. Please let it not be so, but this bears close watching beyond the efforts of your humble paperbacknovel.com correspondent, who will monitor and report as possible.

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