The billionaire who is still rebuilding the World Trade Center might not live to see it finished (2024)

It was early 2020, and major corporations were enamored with the World Trade Center. Larry Silverstein, the now-90-year-old billionaire developer who has built three towers and is planning two more at the Lower Manhattan site, recalls trying to wrap up leasing at 3 World Trade Center.

The 80-story, 2.8 million-square-foot office spire was already anchored by the media company GroupM and home to several other major corporate tenants, including Uber, the mattress-in-a-box startup Casper, and the liquor giant Diageo.

"In another three or four weeks, we would have had 100% of the tower filled," Silverstein said in a recent conversation with Insider from his conference-room-sized corner office on the 38th floor of 7 World Trade Center. "Then the damnedest thing happened. The pandemic hit, and those deals vanished."


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The bird's-eye view from Silverstein's perch reveals a sweeping panorama of the megadevelopment that has replaced the rubble of the 9/11 terrorist attacks 20 years ago.

In addition to 3 World Trade Center, completed in 2018, Silverstein's real-estate firm, Silverstein Properties, built 4 World Trade Center in 2013 and has fully leased that tower. One World Trade Center, the site's tallest structure at 1,776 feet, which is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the large New York City landlord the Durst Organization, is nearly full as well.

The site's memorial, a pair of reflective pools in the footprints of the Twin Towers, has drawn millions of tourists and visitors. The Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center, a theater and events space, is under construction and scheduled for completion in 2023.

In spite of the progress, the coronavirus reckoning threatens to complicate the last chapter in the $20 billion, two-decade effort to restore the site as the commercial center of Lower Manhattan and one of the most vibrant office complexes in America.


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As with much of the rest of the office market across the city and the country, few corporate tenants have been willing to take major blocks of space at the World Trade Center since the arrival of COVID-19. More broadly, ominous signs about future demand have arisen from a corporate world that has been increasingly willing to embrace remote work.

That poses a problem for Silverstein, who must build 2 World Trade Center, a hulking 1,300-foot-tall tower with nearly 3 million square feet of office space, to finish the rebuilding. He estimates the tower will cost a staggering $4 billion. The spire will require huge commitments from anchor office tenants — precisely the kind of jumbo leasing transactions that have appeared to vanish as big corporate names rethink the future of the workplace.

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Silverstein has long said he wants to complete 2 World Trade Center — the final commercial skyscraper at the site — in his lifetime, and he remains unbowed even after entering his 10th decade in May. Just as his pursuit to rebuild the World Trade Center site became a symbol for the resurgence of Lower Manhattan and America's psyche in the aftermath of 9/11, his effort now encapsulates the larger struggle of the multitrillion-dollar office industry to avoid being superseded by the work-from-home movement.

Silverstein is predictably bullish on offices. "When you see what happens when people get together and they start talking and they start thinking and thinking creatively and conversing with each other, it's the most amazing thing," Silverstein said. "It produces results that are remarkable."

And yet: Silverstein need not look further than the World Trade Center to see the mixed signals on whether major tenants agree.


Take Spotify, which occupies 500,000 square feet at 4 World Trade Center, a nearly 1,000-foot-tall, 2.5 million-square-foot office tower. The music-streaming giant has said that, going forward, it will allow most of its employees to continue to work remotely if they prefer to do so.

Uber, which takes up 300,000 square feet at 3 World Trade Center, is trying to offload 25% of its space. The ride-hailing app recently relaxed its return-to-work policies, granting employees more flexibility to log on remotely and offering them the option not to return to the office. In early September, it decided to push back the anticipated reopening of its offices across the country — when workers will be mandated to return at least half of the time — from October to the beginning of 2022.

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The publisher Conde Nast, meanwhile, a tenant in One World Trade Center, is trying to sublease about 400,000 square feet of its roughly 1.1 million square feet of space in the building, according to a leasing broker working with it to dispose of that space. It recently struck deals to offload about 90,000 square feet of that to the message-board site Reddit, which is owned by Conde's parent company, and another tenant.

A total of 21.3 million square feet of sublease space was on the market in the second quarter of 2021, according to the real-estate services firm Savills — close to the record 22 million square feet available in the first quarter.


New development is generally viewed as difficult to undertake in a market flush with so much fallow space.

Silverstein insists he'll complete the challenging coda to the World Trade Center's redevelopment despite the headwinds. He's viewed as a relentless optimist — even in a business packed with boosters. After all, he bought the Twin Towers for $3.2 billion on July 24, 2001, mere weeks before the attacks brought everything crashing down. And he's come this far.

Asked whether he was in conversations with 2 World Trade Center office tenants who would commit to enough space at rents sufficient to justify such a costly endeavor, Silverstein said: "The answer is yes."

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Last year, Silverstein Properties rehired the architecture firm Foster and Partners to take another stab at the aesthetic vision for gargantuan building. The company drafted the original plans for the tower 15 years ago.


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A spokesperson for Silverstein Properties said the company will not be publicly releasing the new plans until it has struck a large leasing deal to allow it to proceed with the development. Silverstein began construction of 3 World Trade Center only after securing a 700,000-square-foot lease with GroupM at the tower, amounting to roughly 25% of that building's space.

"There is interest in space here," Silverstein said. "The question is what particular industries and what are the magnitudes of the needs going to be."

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During the World Trade Center site's winding and difficult reconstruction, Silverstein has silenced naysayers before.

He recounted one particular instance in the mid-2000s, when former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed doubt that Silverstein could fetch the $50-per-square-foot rents he was seeking for 7 World Trade Center, the first office tower at the site to be rebuilt, in 2006. In recent years, buildings at the site have enticed tenants at rents reaching past $80 per square foot and higher, but more than a decade ago, $50 was considered an ambitious target.


"I remember calling Mike and telling him, politely but firmly, that I disagreed with him totally," Silverstein said. "He said, 'Well, prove me wrong.'"

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Silverstein wound up leasing 600,000 square feet of the 1.7 million-square-foot building's space to the ratings firm Moody's in 2006 at $50 per square foot.

"Next thing I know, I get a call from Mike and he said, 'I'm calling to apologize,'" Silverstein recalled.

It's not just 2 World Trade Center that's left to build. Silverstein Properties, along with the large real-estate firm Brookfield, jointly won a bid to develop 5 World Trade Center, a planned 900-foot tower on the site's southern end that will be predominantly residential space, with about 1,300 apartments. That tower's construction is considered less daunting because of resilient demand for housing in New York City.

The uncertainty surrounding the future of the office market now reminds Silverstein of the grave predictions for the future of Lower Manhattan after 9/11.


"'Would the last one out please turn out the lights?'" Silverstein said, remembering the prevailing sentiment at the time that no major office occupier would want to come back to a complex that was the scene of such a horrific event. Now it's "no one will need office buildings. It's ridiculous, more negativism. I don't believe in it."

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He also conceded that his company has begun to diversify its focus beyond New York City to other markets around the country that have begun to see stronger growth, including Las Vegas and Philadelphia.

He credited that shift to his daughter Lisa Silverstein, the 54-year-old vice chairman of the firm. The real-estate executive Marty Burger, who is 56, was named as CEO of the firm in 2014 and oversees its day-to-day operations.

"I did turn the reins over to Lisa," Silverstein said. "She's making many more decisions, which is terrific. Young people think differently. People 90 years of age — we are a bunch of fossils."


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While Silverstein has slowed down in some ways,he said he still maintains an hourlong morning ritual of swimming 20 laps in the 75-foot pool at the nearby Four Seasons hotel and residential tower that Silverstein Properties developed at 30 Park Place, an address just blocks from the World Trade Center.

Silverstein purchased one of the luxury condo's penthouses for $32 million three years ago and makes the short commute into the office most days.

"When I'm not in the office, I'm on the phone," Silverstein said. "I just love being part and parcel of everything that goes on here. It's exciting, and I find it stimulating as hell."

The billionaire who is still rebuilding the World Trade Center might not live to see it finished (2024)


The billionaire who is still rebuilding the World Trade Center might not live to see it finished? ›

The billionaire who is still rebuilding the World Trade Center might not live to see it finished. After 20 years and billions spent, Larry Silverstein is still rebuilding the World Trade Center. The 90-year-old developer must raise a soaring office tower at 2 WTC to complete the megaproject.

Why wasn't the World Trade Center rebuilt? ›

Due to the completion of One, Three, and Four World Trade Center, as well as the memorial and museum, the project was very unlikely to be built. Bjarke Ingels, who was selected as the architect for Two World Trade Center's new design, stated that he would have rebuilt the World Trade Center if it were up to him.

Did anyone live in the World Trade Center? ›

No, the twin towers were office buildings and its illegal to live in an office building in New York. The site contained a Marriott hotel, but that was totally separate from the towers. Did anybody in the top floors of the World Trade Center (above where the plane crashed) survive 9/11? I was…

How much did it cost to rebuild the World Trade Center after 9/11? ›

The building cost $3.8 billion to construct. The World Trade Center complex still isn't profitable, its owner says. One World Trade Center, the 1,776-foot office building that rose in place of the Twin Towers destroyed on Sept. 11, cost $3.8 billion and is the most expensive skyscraper ever built in the U.S.

Who owns the World Trade Center now? ›

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey owns and operates the World Trade Center campus. Founded in 1921, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey builds, operates, and maintains many of the most important transportation and trade infrastructure assets in the country.

How much did the Twin Towers cost in today's money? ›

How much did it cost to construct the Twin Towers? About $900 million in 1973, which is equivalent to about $5.6 billion in 2020, adjusted for inflation. This includes the cost of land acquisition, design, engineering, construction, and equipment.

Is the 2 World Trade Center being built? ›

2 World Trade Center (2 WTC; also known as 200 Greenwich Street) is a skyscraper being developed as part of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex in Manhattan, New York City.

How many died in 9/11? ›

The September 11 attacks of 2001 were the deadliest terrorist attacks in human history, causing the deaths of 2,996 people, including 2,977 victims and 19 hijackers who committed murder–suicide. Thousands more were injured, and long-term health effects have arisen as a consequence of the attacks.

How many people are still missing from 9/11? ›

Despite these advancements in DNA technology, roughly 40% of the victims, or about 1,100 people thought to have died in the disaster, remain unidentified. A total of 2,753 people were reported missing in lower Manhattan after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Did any passenger survive 9/11? ›

In the north tower, American Airlines Flight 11 struck the 93rd through 98th floors and wrecked the stairwells on the 92nd floor. At the crash and above, 1,360 people died; none survived. Below the crash line, 72 died and more than 4,000 survived.

Did anyone survive the fall from 9/11? ›

The final survivor, Port Authority secretary Genelle Guzman-McMillan, was rescued 27 hours after the collapse of the North Tower. Some firefighters and civilians who survived made cell phone calls from voids beneath the rubble, though the amount of debris made it difficult for rescue workers to get to them.

How many people died while building the Twin Towers? ›

The WTC is New York's most lethal construction project, with 60 fatalities. However, the Brooklyn Bridge is NYC's deadliest if you adjust for project size. Its death rate is twice as high as the WTC – 50 fatalities per thousand workers compared to 17.14.

How much money was lost because of 9/11? ›

Adding up the earnings and physical capital losses, Bram, Orr, and Rapaport estimate the total cost of the World Trade Center attack to be between $33 billion and $36 billion.

Is it possible to rebuild the World Trade Center? ›

The site is being rebuilt with up to six new skyscrapers, four of which have been completed; a memorial and museum to those killed in the attacks; the elevated Liberty Park adjacent to the site, containing the St.

How many people escaped WTC? ›

As a consequence of that structural miracle, nearly everyone in the two buildings below the point of impact — at least 10,000 people — escaped with their lives. No one, however, had ever planned for the deliberate attack by a plane loaded with 9,000 gallons of highly inflammable aviation fuel.

How many buildings were destroyed on 9/11 in New York? ›

Along with the initial damage to the buildings' structural columns, this ultimately caused both towers to collapse. The five other buildings in the WTC complex were also destroyed because of damage sustained when the Twin Towers fell. The collapse of the buildings left the site devastated.

How long did it take to clean up 9/11? ›

The work took ten months and involved employees from dozens of City, State and federal agencies and the tireless efforts of responders, laborers, contractors, volunteers, and community organizations.

How much did it cost to rebuild the Pentagon after 9/11? ›

The areas damaged by the attack and areas which had not undergone renovation were completely rebuilt at a cost of $500m. A memorial to those who lost their lives in the attacks was opened in 2008.

How many jobs were lost due to 9/11? ›

An estimated 600,000 jobs were lost as a direct consequence of the terrorist attacks. Of those lost jobs, 226,000 were in travel and tourism. At the World Trade Center, 1,100 businesses were disrupted.

Did the Twin Towers have a 13th floor? ›

The reason it didn't have a 13th floor was that it was only 10 stories high - even after an addition in 1890, its maximum height was only 12 stories.

Why did it take so long to build the One World Trade Center? ›

The project was delayed due to disputes over money, security and design but the last major issues were resolved on April 26, 2006 with a deal between developer Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Which flights crashed into the World Trade Center? ›

In New York City, two planes (American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175) crashed into the World Trade Center (WTC) North and South Towers (Twin Towers) in Lower Manhattan.

How much does it cost to go to the top of the World Trade Center? ›

One World Trade Center (Observatory, also known as One World Observatory): - Standard Admission: The standard admission ticket for adults (ages 13-64) $39. - Children (ages 6-12) and seniors (65+): The ticket price for children is $33 and $37 for seniors.

How long did it take to clean up the World Trade Center? ›

The process of cleanup and recovery at Ground Zero took a total of eight months, with rescue and recovery workers working 24 hours a day. The remains of all the other buildings in the World Trade Center were demolished. And finally, by the end of May, the last piece of steel was ceremonially removed.

When was WTC 6 demolished? ›

It opened in 1974 and was the building in the World Trade Center complex that had the fewest stories. The building served as the U.S. Customs House for New York. It was demolished in late 2001 due to the damage from the collapse of the North Tower during the September 11 attacks.

Why were the twin towers built? ›

The project was developed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The idea for the World Trade Center arose after World War II as a way to supplement existing avenues of international commerce in the United States.

How many planes were hijacked on 911? ›

September 11 attacks. The September 11 attacks, commonly known as 9/11, were four coordinated Islamist suicide terrorist attacks carried out by al-Qaeda against the United States of America in 2001. That morning, 19 terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners scheduled to travel from the East Coast to California.

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