Blank Slate: What Will Finally Rise on the Last World Trade Center Site?

The 33,000-square-foot World Trade Center Site 5, bounded by Washington, Albany and Greenwich Streets. The Port Authority's Police Command Center now occupies the site. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Aug. 06, 2019

It’s the 900-foot-high question. What towering edifice—commercial or residential—will finally rise on the last remaining parcel of the World Trade Center site?

Up for grabs is Site 5, a 33,000-square-foot piece of prime Lower Manhattan real estate, just south of Liberty Park. The Deutsche Bank Building, badly damaged on 9/11, stood there until its demolition was finally completed seven years ago.

The Port Authority and Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC), who are in charge of the site, recently put out a request for proposals to developers hoping to build either a commercial or mixed-use residential building there.

Although the original 2003 master plan for the rebuilt World Trade Center called for a commercial building, up to 900 feet tall, much has changed in Lower Manhattan’s real estate landscape since then. Now, the site is potentially more desirable—and profitable—for a mixed-use development. If selected, the project could have up to 1.1 million square feet of apartments. A required 20 to 30 percent of the units would be below market rate.

“We’re testing the market, which is why we didn’t put more restrictions and parameters [in the request for proposals],” said LMDC board chair Holly Leicht, who appeared before Community Board 1’s Executive Committee last month to explain the decision-making road ahead for the site. “Other than affordable housing, we wanted to keep it pretty open-ended to see what could work.”

“Is it going to be more valuable as a residential site or will it be commercial?” she said. “We don’t know.”

Without public review, a commercial building of up to 1.35 million square feet could be built on the site As a hotel, it could have as many as 800 rooms and 150,000 square feet of convention space, plus 45,000 square feet of retail. 

A residential building, on the other hand, would require months of public review—and, as Leicht noted, would be scrutinized by a newly formed Community Advisory Committee of elected officials, their appointees, and a CB1 representative, as well LMDC and Port Authority officials. An environmental review would also be required.

CB1 supports a mixed-use building with below-market-rate apartments. But the spectre of another large residential project in the area also raises questions about its impact on the neighborhood. 

“We welcome more affordable housing, we welcome more neighbors and development. We know that will happen,” said CB1 Chair Anthony Notaro. “But right now we have a problem,” he added, noting the demands of new development in Lower Manhattan on transportation, school seats and sanitation.

With streets still closed at the World Trade Center, difficult access to, and around, any large new project was also a concern of the committee.

“When we look at proposals we’re going to be looking at their design, their interface with the surrounding context, and access,” said Mark Spector, the Port Authority’s director of real estate. “It’s a question we would raise in the process. How is this feasible?” 

“More than feasible” responded CB1 member Tammy Meltzer. “Make sure the project doesn’t damage the community.” Residents should be represented on the advisory panel, she said.

A community facility, such as a school or library, could potentially be part of a mixed-use project. Leicht said those discussions would take place at the Community Advisory Committee among other forums. 

“We’ll have that conversation about what the priorities are and how they might be able to fit in,” she said. “But we made a very conscious decision. We did not want to solicit a lot of community input and build community expectations if this is just going to be an as-of-right building going forward.”

Officials say that half of the decision will be based on how much money the project can generate, a fifth on its benefits to the surrounding community, as well as considerations such as the building’s design and sustainability.

Sept. 20 is the deadline for proposals. After that, Leicht said, it will take two to three months to pick a developer. The whole review process, if the winning project is a mixed-use residential building, could take up to a year, she said.