I know this for a fact because when those American Airlines planes hit the Twin Towers at 9am and 10am on a Tuesday morning in September of 2001, the buildings were virtually empty. Indeed, more than half the floors of both towers were vacant and unleased. Nutjob religious extremists, in their single-minded obsession with a recognizable American landmark, had managed to strike one of the least populated areas in Manhattan. The death count would have been higher if the terrorists had targeted Kim’s Video on St. Mark’s Place.
I mention this because I see that New York City’s three-term-and-counting philosopher king, Michael Bloomberg, is clamoring for compromise in the stalled negotiations between developers and lenders that have derailed the Trade Center reconstruction efforts. In a New York Times editorial, he and Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the New York State Assembly, spell out that compromise:
“Our proposal would require Mr. Silverstein to invest significantly more equity and take on more risk, and the Port Authority to provide more temporary credit assistance to move construction forward on both towers. Mr. Silverstein has been receptive to this plan, but the Port Authority has not, couching its opposition as an effort to protect taxpayers and preserve its ability to pay for other transportation and development projects in the region.”
Imagine that. A publicly funded regulatory agency attempting to protect taxpayers. Hey, who elected those guys? Bloomberg goes on to state:
“Delays at the site have already cost the Port Authority tens of millions of public dollars. Not only would further delays cost much more, but rent proceeds from a thriving World Trade Center would provide money for the Port Authority’s other transportation projects around the city, including Moynihan Station and a new passenger rail tunnel under the Hudson River.”
All of this, of course, is nonsense. We didn’t have “a thriving World Trade Center” in 2001, in the midst of a comparatively robust economy. Today, with recession lingering and commercial real estate values cratering, Bloomberg’s boondoggle looks like the construction of an instant ghetto.
The truth is, no one wants to work in a shiny new Trade Center, the primary purpose of which would be to function as a terrorist target, a massive buglight drawing every turbaned religious zealot with a grudge. Heck, you don’t even have to wear a turban anymore. There are more than enough Tea Party descendents of Timothy McVeigh willing to take on the Trilateral Commission with a truck bomb or just a clutch of automatic weapons and some grenades.
And then, too, the business world has irrevocably changed. It was changing on 9/11 and it now looks nothing like the business environment of ten years ago. Wall Street doesn’t reside on Wall Street anymore. Nobody’s in the corner office at 9am. Nobody wants to chew up two hours a day fighting their way into and out of lower Manhattan. Financial companies are streamlined, automated, and decentralized; payrolls are small.
When Oliver Stone filmed a sequel to his seminal high-finance blockbuster Wall Street last year, he didn’t base it in Manhattan. In Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Gordon Gekko’s working out of a storefront in New Jersey. The Wall Street symbolized by big Manhattan skyscrapers is as obsolete as that big shoebox-sized cellphone Gordon was shouting into in 1987.
Michael Bloomberg would have New York taxpayers believe that the restoration of the World Trade Center, in all its needless skyscraping height and volume and bombast, represents a restoration of our national pride. The truth is, New Yorkers—and our pride—would be better served with a small pond, a tasteful monument to the dead, and some trees.