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Cover Story - September 2004


Events of a Lifetime

Tishman Shares the Emotion, Opportunity and Challenge of Rebuilding Downtown

by Natalie Keith

To say the last few years of Daniel Tishman's life have been eventful is an understatement.

From watching the crumbling of the twin towers - which his father John Tishman had built three decades ago - to seeing the cornerstone for the new Freedom Tower put into place, Tishman has witnessed events few builders will ever experience.

In a recent interview Tishman shared his personal experiences - as well as those of Tishman Construction Corporation - as the company continues its work to help rebuild Lower Manhattan. From disaster recovery work at the Verizon Building in the days following Sept. 11, 2001 to the groundbreaking ceremony for the Freedom Tower, it has been a time of great challenge and emotion. But it has also been a time of great opportunity.

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On July 4, as the world watched the cornerstone for the Freedom Tower put into place, Tishman said he was overcome by emotion.

"It really was one of the rare experiences one has in their lives," Tishman said. "It was almost as if electricity was surging through my body."

Beyond being the tallest building in the world, the 1,776-ft. Freedom Tower will be an important piece of a large puzzle that will form the rebuilt World Trade Center area. Aside from handling the complex design and technical details that come with a project of this magnitude, Tishman must build the project in the context of other important neighboring initiatives like the World Trade Center Memorial and the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub. During an average work week, Tishman estimated that he attends a total of a day's worth of meetings dedicated to the project.

Adding to the challenge has been the high-profile disputes between parties involved in the rebuilding effort and a public that, at times, demonstrates impatience with the rebuilding process.

"People ask me all the time, 'why don't I see anything happening at the site?'" Tishman said.

Tishman urges casual observers of the site to remember that a 500,000-sq.-ft. below-grade structure must be constructed before above-grade steel can rise, sometime in 2006. Site preparation work - including demolition of a parking garage - will take months. Tishman is projecting that the building will be ready for occupancy in late 2008 or early 2009.

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"It's a meaningful start, it's not just window dressing," Tishman said about the groundbreaking.

Although the Freedom Tower is likely to be the crown jewel of Tishman's career, it is not the only Downtown project that the company is working on. While the company wasn't involved in the clean-up efforts of the pile formed when the towers fell, Tishman was involved in rebuilding efforts that began shortly after the disaster.

In fact, Tishman had about 30 employees working at the Verizon Building on Sept. 11. A portion of 7 World Trade Center fell onto the building, demolishing a quarter of the building's east façade and ruining much of the south facing wall. The building housed the majority of Lower Manhattan's telecommunications systems, which were lost during the attack.

"We had a lot of people working in and around the area on Sept. 11. We had no idea for a few days whether we'd lost anybody," Tishman said.

On Sept. 12, Tishman sent workers to the site to begin the first stages of what would become a months-long, $1.4 billion restoration project. The first priority was restoring the telecommunications services which allowed the stock market to resume operations about a week later.

In the days following the attacks, Tishman also did work to assess damage to the Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York buildings, both of which sustained severe damage. Tishman later completed restoration and renovation work at the Bank of New York building at 101 Barclay St.

"It was a very difficult challenge on the part of the tradespeople because the focus wasn't on the rebuilding effort at that point. There a strong desire to do search and rescue," Tishman said.

The 32-story, brick-and-limestone landmarked Verizon Building was built in 1927 and is widely considered by architects and historians to be the first Art Deco skyscraper. The building has intricately carved cubic blocks of ornamental limestone and ornately detailed panels on its exterior.

The lobby, which was designated an interior landmark in 1991, had been damaged by burst water mains and firefighting efforts following the attacks. A team of 30 conservators, technicians and artists worked for two years to restore it. In recognition of the work, Tishman Interiors Corp. received a Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

In addition to work at the Verizon Building, Tishman is also constructing 7 World Trade Center. Many industry observers have remarked about the fast pace at which the 52-story, 1.6-million-sq.-ft. building is rising. By mid-July, steel has reached the 35th floor, with a topping off ceremony planned for November.

In May a new Con Edison substation located in the base of 7 World Trade Center that provides power to major portions of Downtown was turned on. The new substation comprises 95,000 sq. ft. and its concrete shell rises 75 ft. above grade. The structure houses three transformers that generate 80 megawatts of power. Two more transformers will be fitted within two years with plans for five more to accommodate the increasing demand for power in Lower Manhattan, Tishman said.

"Nobody believed we'd have 7 World Trade three-quarters of the way built and the cornerstone laid by July 4," Tishman said.

Tishman credits much of the impetus for getting projects moving to Larry Silverstein, with whom the company has had a longstanding relationship. Silverstein is the head of Silverstein Properties which controls the 7 World Trade Center site and has a ground lease with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for the remaining World Trade Center sites.

Within 48 hours of Sept. 11, Silverstein called John Tishman and resolved to rebuild the World Trade Center site.

"He is a remarkable man," Tishman said. "Larry never waivers for a moment, never gives in. He's a decision-maker, he doesn't equivocate for a moment."

With the incidents of Sept. 11 almost three years in the past, Tishman looks to the future with a renewed appreciation for the industry and the city.

"There is a tremendous resilience in our national psyche," he said.


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