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Fortune: Mag on How Libeskind Was Chosen Over 7-1 LMDC Objection

January 20 2004 at 11:20 PM
roger 

 
FREEDOM TOWER
Tower Struggle
By Devin Leonard


Things were moving too quickly at ground zero for George Pataki. A shrewd politician with a preternatural ability to co-opt his enemies, the Republican governor was seeking a third term in November 2002. He wasn't about to entrust the rebuilding of ground zero entirely to Silverstein, a major contributor to Democratic candidates. "This is not a private development," Pataki, 58, says earnestly in a telephone interview. "Whatever the legalities may or may not be, this is a public trust."
Ground zero was also a political minefield. Some relatives of 9/11 victims felt that any commercial development there would be sacrilege. But the governor couldn't let the site sit empty. The Port Authority, which he controls with New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, was counting on $120 million in annual lease payments from Silverstein. It was understood in Albany that the only way the developer could make those payments was to rebuild ten million square feet of office space—the same amount as the original trade center—at ground zero. If not, the Port Authority might have to raise the tolls at its bridges and tunnels in the city. That was unthinkable in an election year.
Pataki created the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, a government agency that would oversee the revitalization of downtown. Silverstein chafed under the LMDC's authority. He was going to be putting up the money to rebuild ground zero. Anyway, his lease was with the Port Authority, not with the LMDC. But state officials say that under the terms of his lease, he can build something other than a replica of the Twin Towers only if he gets the Port Authority's consent. What's more, the Port Authority has the right to cancel Silverstein's lease. If it does, however, there is no way he will be able to win enough money from his insurers to cover the cost of ground zero's redevelopment. Under his contract he is entitled to the full sum only if he rebuilds. Pataki and Silverstein, then, were locked in an uneasy partnership.
Ground zero was also a political minefield. Some relatives of 9/11 victims felt that any commercial development there would be sacrilege. But the governor couldn't let the site sit empty. The Port Authority, which he controls with New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, was counting on $120 million in annual lease payments from Silverstein. It was understood in Albany that the only way the developer could make those payments was to rebuild ten million square feet of office space—the same amount as the original trade center—at ground zero. If not, the Port Authority might have to raise the tolls at its bridges and tunnels in the city. That was unthinkable in an election year.
Pataki sympathized with the public. He says the schemes failed to capture the "emotion" of 9/11. With his blessing, the LMDC and the Port Authority solicited "innovative designs" for the site in August 2002. Submissions poured in from famous architects around the world. The LMDC made it clear that this was not a competition, that it was only looking for more imaginative ideas for the site plan. But the architects treated it like a competition anyway. They drew up plans with dazzling buildings, hoping Silverstein would hire them to design his actual skyscrapers. The process morphed into an architectural beauty contest. The winner was Daniel Libeskind.
When Libeskind unveiled his plan in December 2002, relatives of the victims' families wept. Pataki, too, was smitten. "He took a lot of his cues from the families," says someone involved with the LMDC. The agency's site plan committee voted 7-1 to select a competing architect's plan. But the governor wanted Libeskind. "The governor simply overrode those recommendations based on his personal preference for the Libeskind plan," says Silverstein.
So much for consensus. Pataki christened the 1,776-foot building the Freedom Tower. He asked Silverstein to be ready to break ground by Sept. 11, 2004. Many believe the governor wants to lay the cornerstone at the Republican Convention next summer in New York to boost a possible presidential bid in 2008. Pataki strongly denies it.
http://www.fortune.com/fortune/articles/0,15114,574840,00.html

 
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