The Master Builder?

Debit to Metropolis for its story on construction at the WTC site

A Debit to Metropolis for giving us occasion to repeat ourselves, yet again, about ground zero: The rebuilding project is a business story, and its hero is not Larry Silverstein.
In a piece on the planned designs for ground zero, Karrie Jacobs understandably laments their blandness. But then, in an effort to diagnose the problem, she informs us:

What I sense at Ground Zero is a power vacuum. It used to be that there were too many big egos down there. Now there appear to be too few.

This logic doesn’t make sense to us. Egotism is not the same thing as leadership, and there have never been leaders on this project who are worthy of the name. So the “power vacuum” is not new.

Regardless, Silverstein continues to do what developers do: he builds. If 7 WTC, completed in 2006, is any indication, he can build well.

It is way too late, with way too little actually built, to be saying this kind of thing. Or this:

The only person speaking with any frequency these days about his ‘vision’ for the site is its developer, Larry Silverstein. Lately, he’s been giving what amounts to a stump speech, promoting the vitality of Lower Manhattan and touting his revised schedule. ‘The buildings will reach street level approximately one year after the start of construction, and Towers 3 and 4 will top out in mid-2010, with Tower 2 following in 2011,’ Silverstein told the Downtown Association in April. ‘Can you count on this schedule? You bet.’

Or not. This schedule was already out of date before the Metropolis piece went up. The fact that a member of the press is even bothering to quote Silverstein as a credible source on the construction timetable is absurd at this point.

So Silverstein, once thought to be the site’s weak link, is now its master builder…. ‘It turns out that Silverstein is the one who’s implementing Daniel [Libeskind]’s plan,’ observes Alex Garvin, who for 15 crucial months in 2002 and 2003 was the planning czar of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), shepherding Libeskind’s plan to victory.

Not that anyone is implementing much of anything at this moment. And we have a larger point here. As we have said more than once, the rebuilding of ground zero is a business story. The business of building is so intertwined with the design that tossing in a few cost estimates and the like, as this piece does, is not enough to present a complete picture. Even in a piece that focuses on site plans.

After all, we are talking about a project in which Silverstein is reconfiguring a building—at a cost of up to six months in construction delays—to try to convince Merrill Lynch to move in.

This story is complex in that it’s hard to say anything intelligent about it without following a variety of threads at the same time, some of which will have dollar signs attached. But isn’t that called reporting?

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Elinore Longobardi is a Fellow and staff writer of The Audit, the business-press section of Columbia Journalism Review.