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Janno Lieber Testimony – NYS Senate Public Hearing

Janno Lieber Testimony – NYS Senate Public Hearing

Sep 09, 2009
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New York State Senate Public Hearing Senate Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions
Senator Bill Perkins, Chair 
Wednesday, September 9, 10am
“Redevelopment of the World Trade Center: Time to Move Forward” 
BMCC Theater 2, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007

Testimony of Janno Lieber
President, World Trade Center Properties 

Good morning Chairman Perkins and Committee Members.  Thank you for this opportunity to address some important issues, as well as to dispel some misinformation, relating to the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site.

After 9/11, everyone came together and promised to get the site rebuilt as soon as possible.  My company worked with the City, the State and the owner of the site – the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey – to rebuild 7 World Trade Center, the last tower to fall on 9/11.  We started construction in May 2002 and opened the building exactly four years later in May 2006.  The building is a spectacular success and shows what can be accomplished when everyone works together.  It is now home to some of the City’s leading and most innovative companies, many of whom are new to Downtown.

After 9/11, we weren’t the only ones who recognized that the World Trade Center was unique and warranted some special treatment.  The Federal government provided significant funds to the Port Authority to rebuild the PATH station and other transportation infrastructure.  Congress also put in place tax-exempt financing to make sure the commercial space could be rebuilt – without waiting to satisfy conventional market economics.

With Speaker Silver’s leadership, the legislature enacted a “Marshall Plan” to speed up the physical and economic reconstruction of the Downtown business district and to help rebuilding.  In 2007, the State leadership stepped in to resolve our longstanding battles with insurance companies, who were holding back resources necessary for rebuilding. 

Mayor Bloomberg raised the money needed to build the Memorial, and under his leadership the City helped trigger a retail and residential boom that transformed Downtown into a model mixed-use neighborhood.  And he pushed for the Trade Center to be rebuilt promptly because of its importance to the revival of the rest of Downtown, and the City’s overall economy.

We selected a Master Plan for the new World Trade Center that called not only for recreating the retail and office space destroyed in the attacks, but also for a stirring Memorial to the victims of the attacks, a new above-ground mass transit hub, and a Performing Arts Center to bring culture to the site of tragedy.

The Port Authority signed on to that plan and promised to give us construction-ready sites, so that Silverstein Properties could start to build the new buildings – just as we had done with 7 WTC.  The Port also agreed to complete critical infrastructure – the PATH Transportation Hub, the Vehicle Security Center and underground roadway, Greenwich Street and utilities – so that we could finish and open the new Trade Center.

Silverstein Properties hired four world-class architects to design the towers and completed the designs a year and a half ago.  Just as we were getting to build, after years of the Port Authority insisting that everything was going just fine at the site, the agency admitted the truth – that every project for which the Port is responsible had fallen years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget, threatening the entire WTC rebuilding effort.

The Port Authority’s major WTC infrastructure obligations need to be completed as a precondition for the construction, opening and operation of the Memorial, the office towers, the retail and the performing arts center.  Unfortunately, two separate government reports indicate that these projects are now years behind the already-delayed schedule the Port Authority announced only 11 months ago.

Some people say that these delays don’t matter, that we shouldn’t be building office space in this economy and that we should wait for the market to rebound before rebuilding office towers at the Trade Center site.  Amazingly, the Port Authority wants to delay completion of the project until 2037.

I disagree.  We are not building for today’s market. These buildings will take four to five years to build and when they open, the City will be in a much stronger position.  We need to be ready.  The city’s economy has become more and more dependent on high-value added white collar jobs, which require modern office space – for reasons of technology, productivity and recruiting competitiveness.  Those jobs create prosperity that spreads to everyone – retailers, caterers, construction workers, and so on.  But we’re not building that modern, green office space – at all.

This is not a conventional real estate project, subject to the vagaries of the market.  I agree with the Downtown community and 10,000 union workers that this project is too important to delay because of the Port Authority’s pessimistic forecast.  The heart of New York City’s historic Downtown was attacked and destroyed on 9/11.  While the economy has created challenges, we have an obligation to our city and to our nation to rebuild.  And the Port Authority took $2.75 billion out of the insurance fund for rebuilding based on its commitments to make it possible for us to rebuild at the WTC.  I agree with Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Silver that the cause is too important to give up – we owe it to the world, to our country, our city, and our Downtown community to keep our promises to rebuild after the worst terrorist attack on American soil in our nation’s history.

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