The rebuilding of New York’s World Trade Center cleared its last major hurdle on Wednesday, setting up construction of the Freedom Tower and other high rises where the mighty Twin Towers once stood.
The landowner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, approved the deal that developer Larry Silverstein had agreed to on Tuesday, ending four years of often acrimonious debate over what to do with the site destroyed by the Sept. 11 attacks.
Construction on the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, the tallest and most symbolic of the buildings on the site, could begin within a few days of board approval, officials have said. It should be completed by 2011.
Three other new office buildings and a residential tower will eventually surround a memorial, museum and cultural center dedicated to what relatives of the Sept. 11 victims consider a sacred site.
Controversy dogs project
The project has been a source of contention since the immediate aftermath of the suicide hijacking attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The architectural master plan and memorial have sparked often emotional debate, although the more recent battle had more to do with dividing the billions of dollars at stake.
The Port Authority board unanimously approved a “conceptual framework” calling for Silverstein to build the Freedom Tower, but hand it over to the authority once it is completed.
Silverstein will build and keep three other office towers on the site, and the Port Authority will take over a damaged bank building on a neighboring parcel that will be rebuilt for residential use.
The two sides also agreed to a 62/38 split in Silverstein’s favor over the two main sources of funding for the project: the $3.4 billion in tax-exempt Liberty Bonds and Silverstein’s $4.6 billion in insurance proceeds.
Separate New York state and city agencies will be responsible for releasing $1.7 billion each in the Liberty Bonds, a low-cost form of financing created to rebuild Lower Manhattan.
Agency agrees to reduce rent
The Port Authority also agreed to reduce the rent in Silverstein’s 99-year lease, which he signed two months before the attacks.
Silverstein has already built 7 World Trade Center, a tower on the site of a building that collapsed on Sept. 11.
A source familiar with the issues said Port Authority approval became possible thanks to some last-minute tinkering after Silverstein announced on Tuesday that he had accepted what the Port Authority called its final offer.
One assurance granted Silverstein capped his liability for infrastructure costs at $140 million, the source said.