In NYC, Hope Scrapes The Sky

7 World Trade Center, center, the last building to collapse as a result of the World Trade Center attacks Sept. 11, 2001, and the first to be permanently rebuilt, rises above ground zero and the World Trade Center station at dusk, Monday, May 22, 2006, in New York.
The first destroyed skyscraper to be rebuilt since Sept. 11 opened Tuesday, with few tenants but state-of-the-art features that developers say will be part of all the new office towers to rise at the World Trade Center site.

Developer Larry Silverstein officially opened the 52-story 7 World Trade Center for business by unveiling a bright red sculpture called "Balloon Flower" outside his building and hosting a concert featuring Lou Reed and Suzanne Vega.

"We've come a very long way," said Silverstein, who built the first 7 World Trade Center nearly 20 years ago and has struggled to rebuild destroyed office space at the 16-acre site for more than four years. "What you're looking at today is just the beginning."

The building at 7 World Trade Center was the third to collapse on Sept. 11, 2001, after the twin towers. Like the trade center, it is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and leased by Silverstein.

The shimmering glass tower was redesigned by David Childs, the same architect who designed the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, intended as the symbolic replacement to the trade center. Silverstein, in an elaborate renegotiation of his 99-year lease to the towers, agreed last month to shift control of the Freedom Tower and another building to the Port Authority, while retaining control of three other buildings at ground zero.

Including 7, the trade center site lost well over 10 million square feet of office space on Sept. 11. But new tenants haven't been clamoring to return.

Silverstein has rented less than a fifth of 7 World Trade Center's 1.7 million square feet. He moved in his development company's offices this week, while three architects who are designing the towers planned for ground zero will set up shop on another floor.

Ameriprise Financial Inc., a spinoff of American Express, and the New York Academy of Sciences plan to move in by fall. A Chinese developer, Beijing Vantone Real Estate Co. Ltd., signed a tentative agreement to rent the top five floors. Officials said Tuesday's opening is a sign of downtown's resurgence.

"It's going to be filled and it's going to be filled soon," said Kenneth Ringler, the Port Authority's executive director.

Following recommendations to make high rises safer and sturdier after the terrorist attacks, the skyscraper adheres to "a set of standards unique to any high rise office building in America," Silverstein said.

The building is narrower and lets in more sunlight than its original version. An artist installed oversized, moving text that tells New York stories in the lobby. It is the first commercial tower to be certified as "green" because it uses less electricity and high-efficiency cooling and heating systems. And it has adopted newer safety standards, with wider stairwells and 2-foot-thick concrete walls.

Residents gathered on benches around the new sculpture, by artist Jeff Koons, and said they were more than ready for progress.

"We're just slowly waiting," said Sabrina Raza-Wiese, 38, who sat on a bench with her two young children. "It's going to be a long time."