World Trade Center Building Rises—Finally

A model of the future World Trade Center site.
Emmanuel Dunand | AFP | Getty Images
A model of the future World Trade Center site.

While the nation debates whether an Islamic cultural center should be built near Ground Zero in Manhattan, a different project—the subject of an equally intense debate—is finally showing visible signs of progress.

The 1776-foot, 104-story office tower that will anchor the World Trade Center site, originally called the Freedom Tower, has been rebranded as One World Trade Center.

This is happening, as the developers make a global push to attract tenants.

"The first thing we do before we take them into the building is that we introduce them to the actual site itself," said Tara Stacom, vice chairman of Cushman and Wakefield, the leasing agent for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site.

"The hope is that the building's 2.9 million square feet will be 60 percent leased when it opens in 2013."

"It's 16 acres. And we walk them around 16 acres, and then we walk them around the 8-acre park which will be at the very front door of One World Trade Center."

CNBC recently got a tour of the site, which has reached 32 stories—approximately 300 feet—and is adding roughly one floor per week.

The building sits at the northwest corner of Ground Zero, overlooking the construction of the National September 11 Memorial, which will include a museum and giant fountains marking the footprints of the twin towers.

The plans for the site were the subject of considerable controversy following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Eventually a design competition was held, but the winning designs have since been modified considerably to address practical concerns.

Those concerns include turning the new building into a financially viable venture on what is widely considered hallowed ground. Cushman and Wakefield, which won the bidding to become the leasing agent, is in talks with the Durst Group of New York to develop the property.

The hope is that the building's 2.9 million square feet of office space will be roughly 60 percent leased by the time the building is ready for occupancy in 2013, Stacom said.

Meanwhile, a plan to build a 13-story community Islamic center with a mosque, two blocks from the WTC site, is drawing its share of controversy and opposition. Though NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg—and others—support the center on the grounds that the US Constitution guarantees religious freedom, a recent poll by Siena College shows 63 percent of New Yorkers oppose the location of the center due to its proximity Ground Zero.

The tower project got a major boost earlier this month when magazine publisher Conde Nast signed a letter of intent, reportedly agreeing to take as much as one million square feet of space. It is not a definitive agreement, however, and Cushman and Wakefield is continuing to pitch the building to prospective tenants around the world.

Among the inevitable concerns is security at such a high profile site, but Stacom believes the issue has been addressed well.

"There will be no safer building in New York City than One World. We have surpassed the New York building code significantly, we have built well in excess of what's required," Stacom said.

Even at this stage in the construction, with the building still a skeleton, the extra measures are obvious. There will also be plenty of security screening.

Visitors to the observatory and restaurant near the top of the structure will use a different entrance to the building than the tenants.

Stacom acknowledges the site is a "place for remembering," but is emphasizing to prospective tenants that it is also a prime location in a resurgent neighborhood, and, rare for Manhattan, a skyscraper virtually surrounded by open space.

If the building opens on schedule, it will be more than 12 years after the 2001 attacks, and 40 years after the second of the twin towers was completed in 1973.