In olden days, Americans needed just 13 and a half months to erect the Empire State Building, four and a half years to build Hoover Dam, and six years, four months to install the Transcontinental Railroad. And yet this Independence Day, six years, nine months, and three weeks have elapsed since September 11, and Ground Zero remains an 80-foot-deep international embarrassment for the United States.
The government functionaries who fathered this fiasco should yield immediately and assign private developer Larry Silverstein to arrange what already should have occurred: the Twin Towers’ return to America’s skyline.
The wholesale lethargy at Ground Zero became painfully clear in Tuesday’s report on the 16-acre site where al-Qaeda murdered 2,750 innocents:
— Overall construction costs and schedules cannot be determined due to 15 pending "essential decisions." Until then, "we are not going to set new dates until we know exactly where this project stands," said the report’s author, executive director Chris Ward of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the public agency that controls the site.
— Signature elements such as the Freedom Tower and September 11 memorial will be incomplete 10 years after the 9-11 attacks.
— Reported cost overruns are at least $1.23 billion, and rising rapidly.
Having floundered under the hapless "leadership" of former New York governor George Elmer Pataki and his clearly distracted successor, Eliot Spitzer, Ground Zero still lacks an effective administrative structure, Ward said. "This has led to indecision that has resulted in significant schedule delays and cost escalation." He added: "If a project of this size and complexity were being managed by a single owner, with overall control of the design and construction processes, it would be a much simpler story altogether."
Right across Vesey Street from this shambles, veteran real-estate magnate Larry Silverstein produced 7 World Trade Center, an elegant, 52-story high-rise that glistens by day and glows by night. Opened just four years and eight months after 9-11, and now 75 percent full, it is this lugubrious spot’s only sign of hope. Silverstein’s skyscraper never hints that it stands where twisted debris smoldered for months.
The difference? Silverstein manages this project with limited government interference. Conversely, 19 bureaucracies — from Manhattan to Albany to Trenton to Washington — wrestle him at Ground Zero.
"For years, every public official yelled and screamed that no private developer should or could build on ‘sacred ground’ — that the Port Authority could do it more quickly and cheaply. Well, look how that turned out," a Manhattan real-estate executive close to the Ground Zero saga told me. "With 55 years’ experience, Silverstein knows how to build, and how to find tenants. If Larry had been allowed to do what builders do, the site would be completed by now."
Silverstein signed a 99-year lease on the WTC just seven weeks before Islamofascists demolished it. Nevertheless, politicians and pen pushers boss him around. So, they should make him this deal:
— You bought it. You build it. You earn the rent from your tenants. We collect property taxes from you and commercial and sales taxes from them.
— If you beat a mutually agreeable deadline, we pay you a bonus that increases the sooner you finish. Miss it, and you pay a penalty that grows the longer you delay.
— Finally, restore the Twin Towers. Public enthusiasm for this effort will propel its completion. And it’s the right thing to do.
Such blueprints already exist. Twin Towers II — proposed by structural designer Kenneth Gardner and the late Herbert Belton, an original WTC architect — mirrors the sorely missed high rises. Its buildings comprise a 300-room hotel, 800 condominiums, 2 million square feet of retail, and 8 million square feet of offices. These 1,450-foot, safety-enhanced structures fit around the Freedom Towers’ foundation and feature 121 floors — 11 more than in their 1,360-foot predecessors. (Visit www.wtc2011.com.)
"This is what people have asked for from the beginning," Gardner notes. "Construction could be underway in six months, if we summon the will."
The gaping chasm that is Ground Zero screams national paralysis. Nothing more convincingly would signal to friends and foes alike the defiance of our Founding Fathers than to see the Twin Towers back where they belong — taller, stronger, and prouder than ever.
(Deroy Murdock is a columnist and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.Murdock(at)gmail.com)