Mayor & Silverstein chummy as German bank inks 7 W.T.C. deal

By Julie Shapiro

In the drawn-out battle over World Trade Center lease renegotiations between the Port Authority and Silverstein Properties in 2006, the city took the Port’s side, producing a report asserting that the developer didn’t have the money to build the entire site — but that view of Silverstein looks like it’s history.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg had high praise for Larry Silverstein last week as he announced that Silverstein had leased the top three floors of 7 World Trade Center to German bank WestLB.

“Larry has been our partner at the site,” Bloomberg said. Turning to Silverstein, he added, “We need leaders like you.”

Silverstein, president of Silverstein Properties, returned the compliment.

“I personally am delighted that he made the determination to go for the additional term,” Silverstein said of Bloomberg’s plan to try for reelection next fall. “All I can say is God bless you and good luck.”

Bloomberg’s support of Silverstein comes as Silverstein and the Port Authority are in arbitration over the excavation of the site for Tower 4. The site, unlike 7 W.T.C., is owned by the Port. Silverstein is building Tower 4 but says he cannot finish the foundation because the Port left a wall standing in the tower footprint. A settlement between the two sides could come by Friday, a Port Authority spokesperson said this week.

But the press conference last Thursday focused not on the challenges ahead but the business at hand: After several years of searching for tenants to sit atop Lower Manhattan’s skyline, Silverstein found WestLB, a German bank worth 273.1 billion euros. The bank will move its New York headquarters from Midtown to 7 W.T.C.’s top three floors early in 2010 with about 400 employees, said Connie Kain, managing director of WestLB.

“We’re happy to be down here,” Kain said.

A driving factor behind WestLB’s decision was the fact that 7 W.T.C. is a Gold LEED-certified office building, the first in the city, according to Silverstein and WestLB. Neither side would disclose the rent, but Silverstein was reportedly asking $80 a square foot for the 129,000 square feet of space on floors 50, 51 and 52. The deal brings 7 W.T.C. to 83 percent occupancy.

Silverstein said the lease negotiations sped up several weeks ago when the city announced it would put up its share of the money to rebuild Fiterman Hall, the damaged City University of New York building that sits across the street from 7 W.T.C. Many see the contaminated Fiterman Hall as an eyesore and constant reminder of 9/11.

“It did not help” to have Fiterman Hall still standing, Silverstein said last week. “We’re pleased as punch that it’s finally going forward.”

City and state officials were not pleased a few years ago when Silverstein scuttled a deal with a Chinese trade group to move to the top five floors of 7 W.T.C. Silverstein said at the time that Chinese developer Beijing Vantone missed deadlines in the lease negotiations, but some thought Silverstein was holding out for a bank that would pay higher rent. Silverstein later made a deal with HSBC for the top seven floors of the building, but HSBC backed out earlier this fall.

The WestLB lease announcement was a happy occasion for Silverstein, “But it’s also sad in a sense,” Silverstein said, speaking from a podium on the 52nd floor, “because this floor has been used for every conceivable occasion.”

The sweeping views of Manhattan, New York Harbor and beyond served as a backdrop for weddings, bar mitzvahs and community events over the past two-and-a-half years since 7 W.T.C. opened.

“It’s been a terrific source of fun and pleasure,” Silverstein said, grinning as he recalled a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot, where the photographer snapped a couple shots of Silverstein with the models.

Bloomberg asked why he hadn’t been invited, and Silverstein said it was for a select group only: those who, like Silverstein, are at least 77 years old.