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Pataki vows to get Freedom Tower back on track.

Governor Pataki has pledged that the Freedom Tower, World Trade Center memorial and the new downtown transit hub will be constructed on time.

Pataki has charged his top advisor, John Cahill, with managing the rebuilding effort and coordinating the many different agencies and organizations involved, including the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Port Authority, New York Police Department, Empire State Development Corporation, city and state government and developer, Silverstein Properties. Speaking during an address to the Association for a Better New York last Thursday, Pataki indicated that the redesign for the Freedom Tower, which is being drafted by one of the building's original architects, David Childs, will be completed by June and in a manner timely enough to accommodate the building's original completion date.

It had been thought that the redesign, spurred by an April 8 NYPD report identifying security flaws in the building's plans, would set the construction schedule back by up to a year or more. "If you read the press, you'd think that the rebuilding effort downtown was falling apart," Pataki gripped. "If you look at the vast majority of projects, they're on time and ok at the on track." Whether the Freedom Tower would be constructed at all seemed to come into question, as did the quality of management over the site, when, in the wake of the NYPD's security report, the governor conceded that the plans for the 1776 foot tall, torqued building would need to undergo a thorough redesign.

During his speech, Pataki pledged that the building's symbolic height will remain the same, but those close to the project have indicated it will receive a cosmetic as well as structural overhaul. It's facade most likely will no longer be torqued.

Although it was not a public document, the NYPD report was revealed to contain security concerns regarding the tower's 25-foot proximity to West Street and lack of structural reinforcement on the lower floors. Both characteristics, along with the building's prominent profile, made it an especially vulnerable target to vehicular bombs, the NYPD felt. To mitigate those concerns, the building has moved 75 feet east of West Street and will incorporate a sturdier base, with the first 200 feet of the structure heavily reinforced.

"We are making standards that have never been met anywhere in America," Pataki said.

"It will be the safest high rise building anywhere in America and, in all likelihood, anywhere in the world.

"We want it to be a symbol of our freedom, our strength and confidence and thus it must be built stronger than any high rise building built in America."

Charles Gargano, vice chairman of the Port Authority--which owns the land on which the Freedom Tower will be built--indicated that the building had to be totally redesigned rather than just shifted wholesale, because in its new, more eastward position on the site, it will occupy a slightly smaller footprint.

Pataki said that the Freedom Tower won't be shifted too far east and will remain true to the original Daniel Libeskind master plan, which had the tower positioned in the northwest corner of the site.

Some of the building's cosmetic changes, specifically the abandonment of the twisting steel facade, have also been attributed by spectators to the project as cost slashing efforts.

When the Freedom Tower's redesign was announced, many wondered how the various organizations working on the project could have been blind-sided by such seemingly basic security concerns.

Proximity to the street and structural fortification were described by architect Adam Kushner, of Kushner Studios Architect and Design, PC, as considerations integral to the earliest stages of the design process and especially important to a building that is widely held as an inviting target for terrorism.

Kushner, who has designed luxury condominium buildings downtown, said, "All our embassies around the world are designed to withstand car bomb attacks and, when you look at other acts of terrorism in this country, like Oklahoma City and the Trade Center attack in the early 1990s, those were accomplished using vehicle bombs. So it's not like car bombs are an unheard of method of attack.

"When we're developing residential condo buildings, even though we know we're not a likely target for terrorism or attack, security is still a principal concern. There should probably have been better anticipation of these security concerns from the beginning."

How those security concerns went unaddressed until so late in the design phase has been the subject of much speculation.

The NYPD claims that, prior to its issuance of the April report, it expressed its security concerns to the Port Authority in meetings and through written statements delivered in August and October of NYPD 2004. The Port Authority asserted that the NYPD had only presented vague concerns and hadn't offered any protocol for mitigating them.

Paul Browne, commissioner of public affairs for the NYPD, said that the NYPD security concerns issued before the April 8 report were specific and claimed that the building's security flaws were the result of false assumptions on the part of the building's designers; assumptions that the NYPD tried to inform.

"[There are] certain assumptions you make about what your standoff statistics are going to be considering the size of the bomb a vehicle is carrying," Browne said. "We disagreed with assumptions they made.

"We make assumptions based on attacks around the world, on what the Pentagon and State Department have recommended based on experience with buildings likely to be targeted.

"I think they [the organizations involved in the development] may have thought that our role was not in asking questions about the braiding design, but controlling the street around the building."

The Freedom Tower's repositioning would significantly reduce its vulnerability to vehicular attack from West Street.

According to John Abruzzo, vice president of LZA Technology, a subsidiary of the Thornton Tomasetti Group whose specialty is analyzing and mitigating the effect an explosion will have on a structure, the force a blast applies on an object is diminished by the cube root of the increase in distance between that object and the source of the explosion. So, if the distance between the explosive and building is doubled, the force of the blast is reduced by roughly eight times.

Based on that math, the Freedom Tower, whose distance was tripled from its original position, would experience 27 times less force on its structure in the event of a blast on West Street.

According to Abruzzo, whose firm recently heavily reinforced the four supporting stilts of the Citigroup Center to guard it against the possibility of a vehicular bomb, those numbers are significant and should have warranted attention at the opening stages of the design process.

But what Libeskind was almost certainly trying to preserve in positioning the Freedom Tower to the far northwest was the visual corridor between the Freedom Tower and 7 World Trade Center as well as a sense of general openness to the memorial.

"What we're afraid of is that they'll make the new tower into a fortress and, years later, it will be so warped in favor of security, street life and interaction with the street and surrounding neighborhood will be compromised," said Jordan Gruzen, a partner at architecture firm, Gruzen Samton, which has been a pro-bono consultant for the LMDC on the rebuilding.

According to Gruzen, the vibrancy of the site depends on how active its perimeter is.

He fears, however, that the police will put a dent in the site's commercial viability by controlling Vesey Street, which runs along the northern edge of the site, and also Fulton Street, which runs into the WTC site from the east.

While the Freedom Tower could be moved east, the WTC site won't accommodate a significant shift of the tower to the south and therefore the building will have to remain close to Vesey Street.

Speaking to reporters after his speech, Pataki said that neither Vesey nor any other surrounding arteries for traffic will be compromised by security measures.
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Title Annotation:George Pataki
Author:Geiger, Daniel
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 18, 2005
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