Contractors Ponder Ground Zero's Future

Aug. 30, 2002
New York City's construction market took a plunge after Sept. 11, but electrical contractors are expecting it to bounce back after the city finalizes

New York City's construction market took a plunge after Sept. 11, but electrical contractors are expecting it to bounce back after the city finalizes plans for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.

“There's not a lot of new buildings coming up out of the ground right now,” said Jim Usher, vice president of communications for E-J Electric Installation Co., Long Island City, N.Y. “From an economic standpoint, the rebuilding of Ground Zero will be very good for New York. When the World Trade Center complex gets going, if they build anything close to what was there, I would guess that all the major electrical contractors will be involved. That's how huge that project will be.”

While the rebuilding of the World Trade Center is a personal issue for thousands of people, it will economically serve the best interests of New York City, said Usher, who was working in one of the World Trade Center's sublevel offices on Sept. 11.

“That amount of real estate in lower Manhattan is not going to sit idle,” he said. “With Manhattan being a small, tiny island, all that space is comparatively huge. It will be good for the city from a construction standpoint. Once it gets going, there will be a lot of building for a long time.”

Almost a year later, however, plans for rebuilding the World Trade Center are far from complete. Usher describes the task as “Mission Impossible.”

“There's no way they are going to rebuild Ground Zero and make all the different organizations happy. Everybody has a different idea — from the size of the memorial all the way up to how many square feet of office space should be rebuilt. Should it be a couple of big towers again or should it be low-rise towers? It's really split and Mayor Bloomberg has a heck of a job with the Port Authority to bring this together, get consensus and go forward.”

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. unveiled six initial proposals in mid-July. Each called for 11 million square feet of office space, a 600,000-square-foot hotel, 600,000 square feet of retail space and a transportation hub serving New York and New Jersey. Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners, a New York architectural and planning firm, designed each plan with 60-story to 80-story office towers that were grouped around a memorial. Beverly Willis, a New York City architect, said the architecture firm followed the economic program as outlined in the lease, which accounted for the similarity of the six plans. Because the proposals lacked creativity and did not rise to the occasion, the city had to go back to the drawing board, Willis said.

“With my background as an architect, I was fascinated by the fact that all the people, regardless of age or income group, recognized that these plans were all very bland and uninspiring,” she said. “The public clearly wanted something as heroic as the heroic efforts of the individuals who were involved in the rescue effort. To simply treat this like another mega real-estate project does not fit the mood of the people.”

In August, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the Port Authority announced an international design competition, in which five teams will be selected to create designs for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. Willis, cofounder of Rebuild Downtown Our Town (R.DOT), a coalition of lower Manhattan residents, businesses, associations, architects and designers, said R.DOT has been calling for an international design competition from the very beginning.

“We're elated with this turn of events,” Willis said.

To further development in lower Manhattan and allow the designers more creativity, the city of New York and the Port Authority are considering a land swap. If the plan is approved, the city will trade the land under the JFK and LaGuardia airports for the WTC site, which is now owned by the Port Authority.

“The civic groups think it is a brilliant idea,” Willis said. “Getting the Port Authority out of the World Trade Center site and into the airport site will serve the best interests of the city of New York.”

While the plans for rebuilding Ground Zero are a long way from being finalized, No. 7 World Trade is currently under construction. R. DOT's Willis said the building was a tradeoff between Con Edison, the developer and the community.

“The community was not excited about the building, but by the same token, it is compact and opens up Greenwich Street,” she said. “Because there was a major concession made in terms of how it was sited, the community approved a taller building.”

No. 7 World Trade, which will be off the Ground Zero site and north of the former Tower 1, will serve the electrical needs of the surrounding buildings.

“Seven World Trade contained multiple ConEd substations in the lower levels,” Usher said. “Of course, that was all destroyed and there is a real need to get that piece going. From a construction standpoint, that is definitely priority one.”

ConEd and Tishman Construction Corp. are now looking to hire an electrical contractor for Phase 1 of the project. The winner is expected to be announced in early September, and the work will commence in the weeks following Labor Day.

“The project is going forward, the bids are out on the street and we've responded,” he said. “It's going to be done in several phases, but the first phase will be to work with ConEd and get the feeder conduit in for five new and five future substations.”

In Phase 1, the electricians will set up all the pipe and conduit needed to run all the electrical, telephone and security service to feed the entire building. Usher said it will be a fast-track project.

“They have to get this substation built before office towers and everything else goes up,” he said. “ConEd is trying to move as fast as humanly possible.”

The construction on No. 7 World Trade should be wrapped up in the next year, Willis said.

“They are shooting for a deadline of summer 2003,” Willis said. “That will be completed five years before the other buildings. I think it will be 10 or 15 years before the site is rebuilt completely.”

She said it is critical for the city to develop a masterplan for Lower Manhattan.

“If the focus continues to be on the World Trade Center site and nothing is being done to revitalize Lower Manhattan, then I think one year from now, we'll be exactly where we are today.”