So Much for the ‘Freedom Tower’

silverstein properties So Much for the Freedom Tower

Like virtually everything else involved with the World Trade Center redevelopment, the official phasing out of the name “Freedom Tower” has been a slow process.

The moniker designated by Governor Pataki in 2003 for the site’s tallest building—which is slated to rise to 1776 feet, if you count the tower’s 408-foot antenna—the name has never been popular with the Spitzer and Paterson administrations and it seems to have been slowly (or delicately) drifting off official references.

But on Thursday, March 26—the same day that the Port Authority signed the first lease for the building—officials acknowledged that the name has been dropped, at least by the agency.

“As we market the building, we will ensure that the building is presented in the best possible way,” Tony Coscia, chairman of the Port Authority’s board, told reporters after the lease signing ceremony. “1 World Trade Center is its address. It’s the address that we’re using. It’s the one that’s easiest for people to identify with, and frankly, we’ve gotten a very interested and warm reception to it.”

The agency’s executive director, Chris Ward, suggested that if Freedom Tower remains as the name, it will be a “popular” name, not one of the owners.

“There are a lot of buildings that have popular names,” he said. “If the Freedom Tower is the popular name as people think about this, that will be the choice of the people and how they think of downtown. On the other hand, this is a piece of real estate. It has an address. Legally, it is 1 World Trade Center.”

At least in press releases, the Port Authority took its first step away from the symbolic handle in mid-2007, when it started referring to the tower as “1 World Trade Center, the Freedom Tower” in various contract authorizations. (An agency spokesman, at the time, denied there had been a shift).

Then, after Governor Paterson installed Mr. Ward as director for the agency in May 2008, the name seemed to drop further from view. In public remarks, Mr. Ward seemed to always call it “One World Trade Center,” though in agency reports and press releases, it maintained its designation as “1 World Trade Center, the Freedom Tower.” That is, until Thursday, when the Port Authority’s press release on its high-priced 190,000-square-foot lease with Vantone Industrial Co. relegated the term to a parenthetical: “PORT AUTHORITY AND VANTONE INDUSTRIAL SIGN FIRST LEASE FOR ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER (THE FREEDOM TOWER).”

At the press conference, reporters wondered what had become of Pataki’s name.

Of course, the Freedom Tower has never been all that much about real estate—with a price tag over $3 billion, it’s perhaps the most expensive skyscraper ever per square foot, and is considered a likely terrorist target. So, whether or not the name can ever be dropped from the popular lexicon is an open question.

For what it’s worth, Vantone, as the first tenant to sign a lease, is planning to use its six floors for a purpose that fits far better with the current name preferred by officials. The Chinese company plans to use the space as something of an incubator for Chinese companies doing business in America, a purpose that has local officials and the Partnership for New York City (the city’s main advocacy group for big business) rather excited.

The deal caps off years of back and forth for Vantone. Its chairman, Lun Feng, said through a translator that it’s been 1,285 days since he first discussed the concept with the Partnership’s president, Kathy Wylde, and he’s been back and forth to New York for 30 trips. Prior lease deals at 7 World Trade Center and 195 Broadway fell apart late in the negotiation process, so after the papers were signed today, there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief.

The price for the space is rather high, particularly given the uncertainty in the economy. Vantone will pay $85 a foot (though they’re also getting a $5 a foot subsidy from the state) for a 20-year lease on floors 64 through 69 of the 102-story tower.

Update: 5:35 p.m.

This all does not come as welcome news to Mr. Pataki. In a statement, he attacked the decision to drop the name, saying that 1 World Trade Center and 2 World Trade Center should be retired as addresses.

“The Freedom Tower is not simply another piece of real estate and not just a name for marketing purposes,” he said in the statement. “In design and name it is symbolic of our commitment to rise above the attacks of September 11th. Where One and Two World Trade Center once stood there will be a memorial with two voids to honor the heroes we lost, in my view those addresses should never be used again.”