May 09, 2005,
The main argument against rebuilding the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers has crashed to the ground.
The perception that architect Daniel Libeskind’s macabre substitute, the Freedom Tower, inevitably would replace the demolished skyscrapers has undermined the notion of resurrecting the Twin Towers. With the Freedom Tower a fait accompli, why dream of returning the Towers to their rightful home? Since this locomotive left the station, why chase it down the tracks? In fact, despite the conventional wisdom, this train derailed in the switching yard, leaving New Yorkers stranded on a platform.
Ground Zero lately has devolved into chaos. New delays on the engineering-challenged Freedom Tower have triggered Olympic-class finger-pointing among officials. As this gaping hole in Lower Manhattan silently festers, Osama bin Laden chuckles in his cave. His handiwork still affronts the American way.
One month after Goldman Sachs canceled its new, $1.8 billion, 40-story headquarters across from Ground Zero, NYPD “security concerns” have forced the Freedom Tower’s redesign. Its 2009 completion date could slip to 2010 or 2011, a decade after 9/11.
“I don’t want to say the police have been irresponsible, but where were they until this month?” Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) chairman John Whitehead demanded in the May 1 New York Times. “I wish they had called attention to the seriousness of the problems earlier, rather than at this late stage.”
Whitehead must have missed LMDC board member Madelyne Wils’s front-page remarks in the November 19, 2004, New York Sun. “The police have some concerns that the building would be only 25 feet, rather than 50 feet, from the roadway.” According to the Sun, LMDC “was not formally reviewing the question.”
Real-estate developer Larry Silverstein, who signed a 99-year lease on the World Trade Center’s buildings on July 24, 2001, reportedly may seek hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to finance these safety improvements.
Fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, sarcastically rebuked the property magnate. “I’m sure Mr. Silverstein would love to have somebody else pick up some of his tab,” Bloomberg snapped.
Even as Silverstein eyes City Hall and Albany for funds, NY1-TV reported that “government officials are aggressively studying whether they can kick the leaseholder out, but take the $4.5 billion of insurance cash he now controls.” Silverstein pays the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey $10 million monthly to lease annihilated buildings. Now, atop some $460 million in accumulated rent payments, authorities may use eminent domain to de-privatize his lease and snatch the insurance payout he won through two hard-fought lawsuits against his insurers. How Third World.
Amplifying the confusion, LMDC president Kevin Rampe resigned May 2, effective at month’s end. “It’s the right thing for my family and myself,” he told reporters. Perhaps, but Rampe’s retreat conveniently coincides with this bedlam.
“By April of 2005,” New York’s GOP governor George E. Pataki predicted last November, “concrete and steel will arrive for construction. Workers will fill the hollowed-out bedrock with 6,000 cubic yards of concrete that is reinforced with steel rods, forming the foundation for the Freedom Tower.”
In a May 3 speech to Crain’s Business Breakfast Forum, a disgusted Senator Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) updated that forecast: “We have not yet ordered one beam of steel for the Freedom Tower!” He added that these multifarious delays risk $2 billion in federal support for a rail-link connecting Lower Manhattan with JFK International Airport. “In Washington, if you don’t use it, you lose it,” Schumer explained. The engaged and tireless, albeit statist, Schumer complained that “a culture of inertia has infected downtown redevelopment.” He concluded: “Let’s stop twiddling our thumbs and get to work.”
As detached as a just-released helium-balloon, Pataki surveyed these stumbles and said, “Some say you are going too fast. Some say you’re going too slow. We’re just going to continue to try and go right...” Gov. Goldilocks, as the New York Post nicknamed him, added: “All of this is moving forward well.”
Five minutes in Lower Manhattan might pull Pataki back to Earth. Subterranean PATH Trains once again snake through the former WTC’s 16 acres, carrying commuters to and from New Jersey. But the rest of Ground Zero is paralyzed. Last Tuesday afternoon, it was light on construction equipment or other signs of life. A sole blue sedan sat motionless beside a pair of temporary office trailers. The site is a hotbed of stasis.
Freedom Tower visionary Daniel Libeskind greets this sloth philosophically. As the New York Observer reported Libeskind’s April 7 comments at the New York City College of Technology: “It’s no different from the process in which oil is produced from olives or wine from grapes. You put these things under great pressure, they resist the pressure, and the dregs get lost, and you keep the essential product of struggle and pressure.” Libeskind further babbled: “A lot of people today talk about too much stress, but if you really look at world history, the world has always had wars, injustice, rape, hunger that has never changed. What has changed is how human beings act under pressure.”
“How did Pataki ever let this nut case have any part in the rebuilding process, let alone take the role of ‘master planner’?” the Post’s astonished editorialists asked April 9.
With Libeskind’s 70-story Freedom Tower now straitjacketed and lacking even one tenant, Silverstein should adopt the only active alternative: Twin Towers II, Herbert Belton’s and Ken Gardner’s pair of 115-story skyscrapers, bigger and stronger than those that al Qaeda demolished. (For details: TwinTowersII.com.)
While the Freedom Tower’s 25-foot proximity to busy West Street fuels police concerns about potential truck-bomb damage, Twin Towers II stands 62 feet from Liberty Street, its closest vehicular access. Its “tube-within-a-tube” structure, internal columns, and intersecting vertical and horizontal steel beams, versus the original Towers’ truss construction, make the new Towers far tougher than those that were destroyed. Belton, who helped design the old WTC, has boosted exit stairwells from three to six and fireproofed them, just in case.
Gardner’s and Belton’s heroic memorial, unlike the lugubrious “cascading voids” now promised, reflects the resilience and optimism inherent in rebuilding with modern methods what terrorists destroyed. Rather than waste time and perhaps taxpayer money fiddling with the Freedom Tower, Bloomberg, Pataki, Schumer, and Silverstein should huddle promptly with Belton and Gardner to answer a simple question: “How can we quickly give America what it deserves: Better, bolder Twin Towers?”
(TV alert: Ken Gardner is scheduled to appear on Tuesday night’s Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC at 7:00 P.M., 11:00 P.M. and Wednesday morning at 4:00 A.M., all times Eastern. Gardner will show architectural models of Twin Towers II. Also, Donald Trump is slated to discuss his desire to see the Twin Towers rebuilt.)
Deroy Murdock is a New York–based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Virginia.