Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward gave a bravo performance before a packed Association of Better New York breakfast this morning at Cipriani’s 55 Wall Street hall. With the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center approaching this weekend, he took the opportunity to lay out the turn-around of the construction logjam there and to tout the progress made in the past two years.
In particular, he noted PANYNJ’s new construction management and procurement systems and the determination to have the Memorial plaza open by next year’s tenth anniversary, which in turn was made possible by the remarkable engineering plan to build the transit center from the top down. You can read about these features here.
He also touted some real business successes, in particular the selection of the Durst Organization to invest in and lease 1 World Trade Center, and a letter of intent with Conde-Nast to be its anchor tenant. Most surprising to the crowd was his effusive and apparently sincere praise for the person he called his partner, Larry Silverstein (he even did a Silverstein impression and worried he had gotten it right).
For those paying close attention, Ward also articulated a fundamental shift in thinking about Ground Zero. A Harvard Divinity School graduate, and as a former executive of the Port someone who knew many of the folks killed on 9/11, Ward clearly acknowledged the importance of the site and the sensitivities involved. But just as clearly, he stated that this was a vibrant 24/7 commercial and residential neighborhood and needed to be seen as such. As he put it, the same Memorial plaza where families and visitors come to remember will also be the lunchtime park of nearby workers and evening meeting place for them and residents. Capturing this was the idea of dropping the name Freedom Tower and referring to the new building "by its address", 1 World Trade Center.
This is no casual marketing ploy to avoid the stigma of politics which might be viewed as an impediment to marketing the office and retail space under construction. Rather, in the context of the Conde-Nast lease, it marks an effort by the Port to link the Financial District’s future to the new media neighborhoods of the Flat Iron District, SoHo and Tribeca, a bold planning initiative from a staid regional infrastructure organization.