Building Trades

Workers Demand Progress at World Trade Center

Thousands of construction workers gathered March 9th by the open pit that still marks the site World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. The workers came with the banners of their labor unions and their voices rose in protest to demand work start quickly on all of the office towers planned for the site. 

“Build it now!” they called, joined by more than a dozen Congressmen, local politicians, and labor leaders.  It’s currently unclear when work will start on two of the three towers planned for the site as development partners fight over the construction schedule and how to pay for it.

More than 10,000 construction jobs are at stake, according to union leaders.  In January, an arbitration panel gave the World Trade Center partners until this March 12 to either reach an agreement or submit to whatever the panel decides — though its unclear how long the panel would take to make its decision.  “We are pleading with our partners: sit down together in a room, lock the doors, and don’t come out until you have a solution,” said Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers’ Association.

The development partners heard him loud and clear: Larry Silverstein, head of Silverman Properties, and Port Authority Chief Christopher Ward both attended the rally. Both had seats on the speakers’ platform, just behind the podium.“The purpose of the rally was to bring the partners together,” said Gary LaBarbara, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council.

For years, the Port Authority and Silverstein have squabbled over issues ranging from the scale of the project to the mix of uses. Construction is now underway on the World Trade Center memorial, a transit hub, and 1 World Trade Center, also known as the Freedom Tower, which will be the first of three towers planned for the World Trade Center’s giant, 16-acre city block.

The timetable is uncertain for the construction of the remaining two towers. Silverstein is pushing to rebuild the towers quickly with the help of financing from the Port Authority.  But several studies commissioned by the Port Authority call for the World Trade Center to be rebuilt gradually, as it becomes more of a sure thing that the planned office space will quickly fill up with tenants. According to the gloomiest of these projections, a 2009 report by real estate giant Cushman and Wakefield, the last of three new towers at the new World Trade Center might not be finished until 2030 and might not be fully leased until 2037 — 26 years after the September 11th attacks that brought the towers down.

Protest organizers seized on the date 2037 as an unacceptable timeline. Rep. Carolyn Maloney compared it unfavorably to the time, “a little more than a year,” it took to build the Empire State Building during the Great Depression.

March 12, 2010

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