Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ground Zero is No Joke (Unless You're Talking About Construction Schedules)

None of the following should be construed to minimize the catastrophe that took place at the site of the former World Trade Center several years back. I was certainly close enough to "the events" to know it was all shock and awe and nothing at all funny.

However, seven years on we still have this enormous hole in the ground. It is the size of the downtowns of several notable cities I have visited: Portland, Oregon, for instance--a city large enough to have a AAA farm club; or New Orleans--certainly the French Quarter is not much bigger than this acre of hell in Lower Manhattan. Simply put: it's a big hole and lots of buildings were destroyed.

Now comes the joke: they keep saying they are putting up buildings there. This is probably because it would hurt too much to admit the turbaned enemy can awake each morning knowing that, where he knocked down skyscrapers, no skyscrapers now stand. It may also be due to the interlocking nature of dozens of business deals that have been made over the ashes, and to admit that one is not putting up buildings would be to scuttle those deals and all the money that rides upon their progress. All that said, here is a fact: they are not putting up any buildings at Ground Zero.

Sure, there is the Freedom Tower. The Freedom Tower, which will be the tallest building in the United States when built, is a two-story high concrete stump surrounded by a moat of pilings and mud. In no way does it resemble a skyscraper and barely resembles a building. Three or four years ago, they put six girders in the ground--and then stopped. There are two mighty construction cranes towering above the stump, and they both have big American flags on them. But they are mostly silent. A handful of hardhats poke around the site each day, perhaps hammering a nail or two. The site was broom clean and ready for construction in 2002. No other buildings have laid even a foundation (except for the memorial, which is destined to be largely underground).

Folks, they are not putting up any buildings at Ground Zero.

Don't let any computer rendering make you believe otherwise.

There are no buildings now. There are no buildings getting ready to be built. There are no buildings on the horizon. There are only the computer renderings.

I believe this is because Larry Silverstein, the lease-holder of the site, knows that, since he received billions for the loss of the twin towers, and since he is not compelled to build, and since there is no market at all for any office towers he would conceivably build, he would be mighty foolish to waste all those billions on a clutch of very tall skyscrapers that will cost him all his billions and sit empty and make him go broke before the paint is dry in their corridors. I believe there was a limited market before this fall's financial meltdown and that now, only a crazy person would put up an entire city's worth of buildings just blocks away from the epicenter of that meltdown. Heck, it is a wonder that the nearby Goldman Sachs tower is continuing towards completion.

There's no hope for any construction at Ground Zero. And that is a sad sort of joke: the terrorists won.

By the way: I hope I am proven the world's worst prognosticator, and that they have everything tall and shiny by 2012 just like they keep promising. But I am not feeling optimistic.