Durst Once Dissed Freedom Tower—But Now He Wants a Piece!

In February 2007, Douglas Durst was no fan of the Freedom Tower. The prominent landlord broadcast this view not only to his peers but to everyone: He took out full-page ads in the city’s major papers with an open letter to then governor Eliot Spitzer asking him to halt construction of the 1,776-foot tower at the World Trade Center.

“Why, now, is the government planning to pay for the construction of an overly expensive design to be occupied by government agencies at overly expensive rents, all at the expense of taxpayers’ money which could be put to better uses?” asked the letter, signed by Mr. Durst and Anthony Malkin, an owner of the Empire State Building. “The Freedom Tower, at a cost of $2.4 billion, is far too important an undertaking to be mired in inefficient planning, hasty design, or occupancy by government agencies paying submarket rents.”

Mr. Durst has had a change in heart.

With the tower now more than 200 feet off the ground, he is one of four bidders vying to buy a stake of the building from the Port Authority, which is developing the tower, since renamed One World Trade Center. With a desire to have a real developer as the public face of the building, and with the appeal of some cash, the Port Authority is choosing between Mr. Durst’s the Durst Organization, Mort Zuckerman’s Boston Properties, Stephen Ross’ Related Companies and Hines Interests, each of which have offered about $100 million for a non-traditional equity stake in the tower.

Perhaps Mr. Durst no longer thinks the giant new tower will flood the market with too much space. Perhaps he’s come around to love a design he criticized. Perhaps he’s changed his sour views on using government tenants to prop up the tower and pay more than they normally would.

Or maybe he just smells a good offer at a time when prices are low, and any allegations of a double standard are far outweighed by the appeal of the deal.

After all, while Mr. Durst is comfortably seated in his new, full and wildly successful Bank of America tower, across from Bryant Park, many of his colleagues in the industry are cash-poor and busy shuttling among angry lenders seeking to reclaim their buildings.

“Timing is everything in real estate, and we think now is the time for One World Trade Center,” said Mr. Durst, who followed in father Seymour’s footsteps to oppose construction of the World Trade Center. “It is going to be the only new building downtown and possibly the only new building in the city at the time.”

Plus, why engage in futile opposition when a good deal awaits?

“The building is going to go ahead no matter what anybody says,” he said. “Similarly with the Times Square redevelopment project, we bitterly opposed that, but once the decision was made to go forward, we were a part of it.”

“That is,” he added with a facetious tone, “in the past we’ve been against something before we were for it.

ebrown@observer.com Durst Once Dissed Freedom Tower—But Now He Wants a Piece!