America’s Tallest Building Might Be for Sale

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Great views, if you have a cool $5 billion.Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

For sale: One World Trade Center. At least that’s what the Port Authority is considering, according to Crain’s New York Business. The 1,776-foot tower is America’s tallest and perhaps its most symbolic — a memorial to 9/11, and a testament to the country, and the city, that rebuilt. But One World Trade Center is also expensive for the Port Authority to secure and maintain. The tower that cost $3.8 billion to erect has had trouble attracting tenants since its opening in 2014, and remains about one-third vacant.

So, according to Crain’s, the Port Authority would like to unload it, and some of its leaders think now is the time. The sale of One World Trade Center has been floated before, specifically in a 2014 Port Authority report that recommended the agency get out of the real-estate business altogether and use the cash for investments in major transit projects, such as the new midtown bus terminal. Crain’s reports:

Under pressure to return to its traditional focus on transportation, yet strapped for cash, the agency plans to sell what was originally called the Freedom Tower to the highest bidder—foreign or domestic—for a price executives believe could be as much as $5 billion. That would be the highest price ever paid for an office building in the U.S.

Selling One World Trade Center comes with its own set of challenges — the huge price tag being just one of them. Public pushback is likely should a deep-pocketed foreign buyer make a bid on the site once known as the “Freedom Tower.” Any potential landlords are also likely nervous about the security challenges the tower presents.

Another wrinkle is the Durst Organization, which won a $100 million stake in One World Trade Center in 2010. As Crain’s explains, any potential buyer has to contend with Durst:

That investment is scheduled to be converted into an ownership stake when the tower is projected to be fully leased in 2019. Durst has first dibs on matching a potential buyer’s offer and also has the right to block any deal before its ownership vests. That means that if a sale materialized in the next two years, Durst would likely have to be bought out before the Port Authority could complete the transaction.

When it comes to the WTC, the Port Authority is basically deciding between an influx of cash now or waiting until the building fills up and starts throwing off profits. Back in 2014, the agency’s chair, John Degnan, told The Wall Street Journal, “We’ve spent billions of dollars to build the World Trade Center—I’m not getting rid of it on a fire sale.”