Freedom from diversions at the W.T.C.

 A month after the war in Iraq began, the governor at the time, George Pataki, came to Lower Manhattan and gave a hopeful speech about getting World Trade Center rebuilding plans on track (sound familiar?), and said Daniel Libeskind’s proposed 1,776-foot tower would open in 2008 and be called “Freedom Tower.”           

Few people, if any, connected the 2003 speech to the war at the time, and perhaps many would question a connection even now in hindsight. But looking back at the Bush administration’s calculated and cynical efforts to falsely connect 9/11 to Iraq, the tower name, whether intended or not by one of Bush’s most loyal supporters, fit in nicely with the administration’s “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

That is one of the reasons we join many of our neighbors who are less than thrilled with the Freedom Tower moniker. That said, it is the name that has been used for six years and we presume it will be the name that most people use whenever it opens and for many years after. The Port Authority, the building’s owner, is the first to admit that.

Reports of the death of “freedom” at the World Trade Center site are not only exaggerated, they are wrong, counter-productive and diversionary. The city’s daily tabloids went hyperbolic at the end of last week at the supposed news that the Port was phasing out the name, but on the very day when this “blow” against freedom was struck, the Port used the old name — in the headline — of a press release announcing a lease deal with a Chinese trade group. Granted “Freedom Tower” was written in parentheses, but officials repeated what they have been saying for almost a year — they are referring to the building as “One World Trade Center” and they don’t expect the original name to disappear.

The Port feels it is easier to market One W.T.C., and although it may shock some people, this is a commercial office building that needs real tenants. The worldwide economic crises and the crash on nearby Wall St. have added tremendously to the uncertainty on the site.

What is truly alarming at the W.T.C. is the recent discovery that developer Larry Silverstein will have trouble building three of the other towers without more financial help. This is the scary development that needs the most attention. As we have pointed out many times before, these Church St. towers with ground floor retail are the key to bringing street life back. That’s why three years ago, prior to the start of construction of One W.T.C., we called on officials to put the project on hold to focus on the Church St. towers. Now that construction is proceeding rapidly at No. 1 and the marketing campaign has paid its first dividend, we hope the work continues apace.

But the long-awaited full opening of the memorial and the Freedom Tower, hopefully in four or five years, will still mean we’ll have a few holes in the ground near otherwise bustling Church St. unless something changes.  

By any other name that would still smell like disaster.  There are real problems to tackle now and diversions were so 2003.