Silverstein shares updates, lessons from WTC development

When Larry Silverstein was asked to lend some of his time to be the featured guest at a B’nai B’rith real estate luncheon event held yesterday he was happy to oblige, and even agreed to pay for lunch, he told an audience of about 70 at the event in 7 World Trade Center. The developer said the organization has done extraordinary work in its more than 100 years of existence.

The animated, charasmatic and joyful impressario of Silverstein Properties stood behind a sleekly designed transparent lecturn, near 12-foot windows overlooking the development site, and talked for nearly 40 minutes about what he’s called his most important project — the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site.

He imparted two themes of New York development he’s learned in his 55-year career: Don’t bet against New York — it always comes back and strongly, and, referring to the built-on-spec 7 WTC, if you build it they will come.

On 7 WTC, Silverstein said at the beginning, “we were the only tenant and it was lonely.” Though he was called crazy for building at that point in time, he’s learned that building during a downturn isn’t necessarily a bad thing: by the time construction is complete the economy will likely be better. Now, 7 WTC is fully leased.

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Silverstein launched into a discussion about the rest of the site, helped by a nearly five-foot high model of the finished project. He reminded the audience that all the buildings on the finished site will be LEED Gold-certified, and that complex will include a performing arts center designed by Frank Gehry, a new transportation hub and public space covering 50 percent of the site.

As for the much-anticipated 1 WTC, 80 of the 104 stories are complete, thanks to 3,000 construction workers on hand. Silverstein said that project is single-handedly keeping the local construction industry afloat.

The entire project is costing more than $20 billion, Silverstein said. He added that though Conde Nast’s decision to lease one million square feet was a big win for the site, the news that UBS won’t lease any space in the complex, thanks to poor earnings and the ‘rogue trader’ that lost $2.3 billion for the bank, was a big blow.

On a positive note, world class retailers are very interested in the retail portion of the development, according to Silverstein, referencing the $600 million deal between Westfield and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey for nearly 500,000 square feet.

He added that the combination of more people living in walking distance of work in Lower Manhattan than anywhere else in the U.S., and the six million tourists that visit the area each year, the future of downtown residential and retail is very promising. — Marc Becker

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