Five Questions: One World Trade Tops Out; What’s Next?

By Eliot Brown Wall Street Journal

One World Trade Center, the signature tower being built at Ground Zero, reached its peak Friday morning, with the final piece of its mast being installed at 1,776 feet above street level.

AFP/Getty Images The final section of the 408-foot mast was installed Friday atop One World Trade Center. Slide show

AFP/Getty Images The final section of the 408-foot mast was installed Friday atop One World Trade Center. Slide show

The event marks a milestone for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center, one of America’s most prominent construction projects. The 16-acre swath of Lower Manhattan has been largely fenced off from the rest of the city since terrorists felled the Twin Towers.

Construction, however, is still ongoing, and will be for some time to come. The building isn’t set to open to tenants—and the public—until sometime in 2015.

Why has the building taken so long?

First planned in 2003, One World Trade has been slowed in large part by having too many cooks in the kitchen as a series of New York and New Jersey governors, two different private developers, a public-agency developer, and a host of other actors have guided its rise.

The building has had two different architects and three different designs. Agencies failed to coordinate, and at one point more than two years into planning, the building needed to be moved to assuage security concerns raised by the New York Police Department. It even has had two different names: first “Freedom Tower,” which was dropped in favor of the more neutral One World Trade Center, in part for marketing reasons.

Who will occupy the building?

Publisher Condé Nast has signed on to be the anchor tenant for one-third of the 3 million square feet in the building (that’s about the same size as the Empire State Building). Others include the federal government, which agreed to take space as a form of subsidy for the tower, and Chinese real estate firm Beijing Vantone. That makes it about 55% leased, and the developers are looking for others. In addition, an observation deck is slated to be built on the top three floors.

Will it be financially successful?

Barring an economic miracle, not any time soon. At $3.9 billion, the building is set to be the most expensive office tower ever built. It was valued in 2010 at about $2 billion, although that has likely risen some since given an improving market. Like the initial Twin Towers, however, it could find success some years or decades into the future, should rents rise over time.

What’s the status of the rest of the World Trade Center site?

The memorial plaza opened in 2011, although the remaining components are still some time off. Three other towers are planned by private developer Larry Silverstein, with the first of them —4 World Trade Center— scheduled to be delivered to its two government tenants by the end of 2013. Another, 3 World Trade Center, isn’t going higher than eight stories until it finds a tenant. The final one, 2 World Trade Center, doesn’t have the same subsidies behind it as the others, so it would need a major tenant at healthy rents.

Is this the tallest building in the Western hemisphere?

It depends how height is counted. If you ask the owners, yes. But it all depends on whether the 408-foot mast is considered a spire—an architecturally integral piece of the building—or an antenna, which would mean the building is just counted to its roof at 1,368 feet. The mast’s main architectural feature—a geometric white shell—was stripped from plans last year, leaving exposed the infrastructure that was not designed for public view. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat is the official arbiter, and they are set to rule when it’s completed.

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