Two World Trade Center, one of the final skyscrapers to fill the hole torn in the Manhattan skyline the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, remains unbuilt and uncertain 17 years after the terrorist attacks.
Envisioned to rise someday to 81 stories and 1,340 feet, 2 World Trade Center has been stalled by the lack of a marquee tenant necessary to convince a bank to finance its construction.
The process of making lower Manhattan whole again languished in the aftermath of the attacks. But after years of bureaucratic squabbling, competing visions for the site and the financial crash of 2008, which hurt the real estate market, a new downtown began to take final shape in the last decade.
The Oculus transit and retail hub now is operating, and tall skyscrapers surround the memorial and museum where the Twin Towers once stood. In June, 3 World Trade Center opened and welcomed its first tenant.
But there is a graffiti-covered lot holding a squat maze of heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment for the Oculus where 2 World Trade Center is supposed to go. This final skyscraper to help replenish the 10 million square feet of commercial office space lost on 9/11 won't be built until the major tenant signs on, the developer says.
Before granting a construction loan, a bank requires what’s known as an anchor tenant to sign a lease. Such a tenant for 2 World Trade Center would need to take between 40 and 50 percent of the space, McQuillan said. Once Silverstein Properties secures an anchor tenant, the tower will take four or five years to build, McQuillan said.
At 2 World Trade Center, two prospective marquee tenants — News Corporation/21st Century Fox and Deutsche Bank — considered the property but ultimately declined to sign on.
“A number of deals have fallen through for large tenantry in Tower 2,” said Lynne Sagalyn, author of “Power at Ground Zero: Politics, Money, and the Remaking of Lower Manhattan” and an emerita professor at Columbia University.
To the south, 3 World Trade Center is about 38 percent leased, with the ad agency GroupM moved in and management consultants McKinsey & Company and IEX Group, a stock exchange, on the way, according to Dara McQuillan, spokesman for Silverstein Properties, the developer of 2, 3, 4 and 7 World Trade Center.
Mitchell Moss, an urban planning scholar at New York University, said "it’s very wise not to build everything at the same time" and “it’s prudent to fill the existing buildings” first.
The asking rent at the buildings starts at about $80 a square foot, McQuillan said.
Silverstein Properties faces a hurdle with 2 World Trade Center that several other of the buildings didn’t: It’s not subsidized with help from the public, including tax-free bonds, Sagalyn said. The building “was required to essentially be market driven, without subsidies to support its immediate development,” Sagalyn said.
For example, with Tower 4, which opened in 2013, if rent revenue didn't cover the bonds' debt service, the Port Authority had agreed to cover the gap, she said.
The design for 2 World Trade Center has also changed over the years. The prior design was a shimmering tower, with a slanted-glass roof divided up into four diamonds, by the British architect Norman Foster. But those plans were shelved in favor of boxy terraces that rise like steps by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. Ingels’ spokeswoman Daria Pahhota said the project “is currently on hold” awaiting a tenant. Pahhota declined to make Ingels available.
Surrounding the footprint of 2 World Trade Center are murals by graffiti and street artists commissioned by Silverstein Properties. The murals help Silverstein with prospective tenants because "a lot of companies come downtown because they want to be with young creative people," McQuillan said.
On the Friday before the 9/11 anniversary, tourists and other passers-by stopped to snap selfies and look at the designs. One of the artists was on site to continue his work.
Speaking on Tuesday at an unrelated event, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is satisfied “in general” with the pace of construction at the site, in which the city has a limited role.
“There’s been a sea change there and it’s been an extraordinary, positive story, after years where things appeared to be static,” he said.
But beyond 2 World Trade, there is still work to be done.
A long-imagined performing arts center won’t open for several years at the earliest, delayed until recently over funding woes. The reconstruction on the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, came to a halt last year when the archdiocese couldn't pay its bills. And there’s a question mark over what will go at 5 World Trade Center, owned by a government entity, when it is ever built: Residential, office space, retail or a hotel have all been mentioned.
Sagalyn said the progress at the World Trade Center complex should be considered in the context of other local major projects, including some 30 years to build up parts of Battery Park City, and two decades to redevelop Times Square, where work on one small site remains incomplete.
“It was relatively fast by New York standards, considering how much got built,” she said of post-9/11 reconstruction, adding: “I think it’s just a matter of time — they will get a tenant and Tower 2 will be built.”