Who Wants to Move to Ground Zero?

Seven World Trade Center should be ready for tenants by the beginning of next year. Photo: Stuart Hawkins

There’s a compulsive quickness to Larry Silverstein’s step. It’s the walk of a man paying $228 a minute in rent on buildings that don’t yet exist. We’re crossing a muddy expanse on the way to the workers’ elevator of 7 World Trade Center, Silverstein’s new skyscraper at the northern tip of ground zero. The stout, 52-story glass tower that has conspicuously sprouted at the barren corner of Greenwich and Barclay streets should be completed by the beginning of next year. Silverstein—who signed his 99-year lease on the Twin Towers just six weeks before they were destroyed—now has 1.7 million square feet of brand-new office space to lease.

We arrive on the 34th floor and walk out of the elevator onto cold concrete. The 73-year-old real-estate developer, short and square and tan as a yachtsman, is wearing a gray suit with padded shoulders to counteract his natural schlumpiness. On top of his improbably reddish hair is a hard hat with a flag and the slogan THE REBUILDING CONTINUES. He paces around, jabbing a finger toward the skyscraper’s floors, girders, and walls. “The massiveness is the key!” he says. “See the steel beams going across? Look at the heftiness of it. The sheer strength of it. The massiveness of it!” He launches into a litany of his new skyscraper’s every safety feature. “We learned on 9/11 that you don’t build a core out of plasterboard,” he says. “Plasterboard doesn’t burn—terrific—but you can take a penknife and carve through it. It’s permitted by code, but it has no strength. It has no substance. Our core has concrete shear wall two feet in thickness—consisting of 12,000-pound concrete, the most dense form of concrete you can pour. It will sustain 12,000 pounds of pressure per square inch—without deflection. On every floor, that two-foot-thick shear wall is impregnated with 70 tons of steel reinforcing bars. Every floor!” He shakes his head, as if even he can’t believe it. “You’ve got a TRAILER-TRUCKLOAD of steel reinforcing bars on every floor of 7 World Trade Center!” Then he whispers, “Nothing is going to destroy that core.”

Now Silverstein is selling the neighborhood to come—the 9/11 memorial, the new PATH station, the performing-arts center, and the 600,000 square feet of shopping (or “destination retail,” as he puts it) that will line the underground concourse that connects fourteen subway lines to a new glass Fulton Street subway station. He plays up the world-class architects being brought in to design the various buildings: David Childs, Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, and Santiago Calatrava, the man who came up with the idea to turn the PATH terminal into a majestic, almost ethereal complex with a sexy shape and retractable roof. “My wife and I and Santiago and his wife had dinner together,” he says. “He’s an extraordinary guy. She is a dee-light-ful woman.”

While he paints a perfectly captivating picture of a shining downtown rebuilt from tragedy, that image doesn’t quite square with the immediate view. To the south, through nonreflective, non-tinted glass (“The most expensive glass you can buy!”), is the disaster area turned construction site of ground zero, where construction on the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower isn’t scheduled to start for several more months. To the north, there’s a straight shot of midtown—a pristine, symmetrical skyline view, sliced clean down the middle by the Empire State Building. This perspective is unique, but it wasn’t always. I haven’t seen a view like this—no one has—since the last time I was at the top of the World Trade Center.

“Look,” Silverstein says, pitching again. “Spectacular. Unobstructed, no matter where you work. Everything is column-free. And the curtain wall goes from the floor to the base!”

This is Silverstein’s standard sales presentation. He’s uttered it dozens of times to potential tenants, a cross section of Fortune 500 America, and they’ve all taken the same tour of the building and seen the same view. But so far, Silverstein has not been able to seduce one of them. As of now, in fact, he has secured a single tenant: Silverstein Properties.

Larry Silverstein has spent nearly four years as the odd man out at ground zero, written off by victims’ families, urban planners, and the media as the guy who was too broke to rebuild. He’s been continually upstaged by a series of louder, more mediagenic characters: George Pataki, celebrity architect Daniel Libeskind, and Rudy Giuliani, who sided with calls by the families of victims for a sixteen-acre memorial. Today, Silverstein has emerged as the most important player in lower Manhattan. He has the cash and the legal right to rebuild—and with 7 World Trade Center nearly ready to rent and construction of the Freedom Tower ramping up, he’s on his way to doing exactly that. “My world has been filled with people telling me what I can’t do, what I’ll never accomplish,” Silverstein says in his halting Brooklyn baritone. That he’s made it this far can’t help but make him crow a little. It’s almost enough to make him forget that what lies ahead may be the world’s most sensitive marketing challenge: asking tenants to move to the scene of the worst terrorist attacks in history.

Silverstein has always been at the center of the unprecedented peculiarities of ground zero. Pataki and the state technically control the site—the Port Authority, which the governor effectively runs, owns the land—but Silverstein’s 99-year lease on the World Trade Center is also tantamount to ownership. Although Silverstein originally had only $14 million of his own money in equity in the place (a consortium of partners put up more than $100 million), the lease gave him the right to rebuild all 10 million lost square feet of office space, regardless of the wishes of victims’ families, neighbors, or the governor. It also gave him the authority to force through much of his own architect’s design for the Freedom Tower. An initial $3.6 billion insurance payment allowed Silverstein to keep paying the $120 million annual rent after 9/11 while bankrolling the construction of the new 7 World Trade building and the Freedom Tower, but his detractors said he still lacked sufficient funds to properly develop the site. That all changed this past December, when Silverstein won a court victory forcing some insurers to pay him for two separate attacks. Before the $1.1 billion decision, reporters had been calling regularly to seek comment on confidential whispers that Larry was running out of money and that he couldn’t develop the site. After the verdict, the calls stopped.

Now, as Silverstein’s reward, the fate of one of the most valuable and closely scrutinized pieces of real estate in the world rests on his shoulders. Seven World Trade Center is more than just one piece of the $14 billion puzzle; it is, in a sense, the Ur-piece. Much of the project is made possible, or at least justifiable, only by Silverstein’s ability to get tenants for his five office towers. But because Silverstein still has just enough cash to build the first three office buildings—7 World Trade, the Freedom Tower, and a subsequent building called Tower 2—any whiff of failure on the commercial front could slow down or derail the rest of the plan. If 7 World Trade doesn’t rent, the parts of the plan that Silverstein doesn’t control—the Gehry-designed theater, Calatrava’s $2 billion transit hub, and the 9/11 memorial, designed by Michael Arad—could all be stalled.

All eyes, then, turn to the fortunes of 7 World Trade Center. The tower has generated so much buzz in commercial-real-estate circles, rising so quickly at such a high-profile site, that leasing agents would simply be remiss in not asking for a tour. And the building has its virtues: The clear-glass-curtain wall with shimmering blue accents has impressive curb appeal; the floor plates are practical and customizable; the safety elements, like extra-wide stairwells and that concrete core, are, in fact, beyond what the city’s building code requires. Silverstein has also thrown in attention-getting bells and whistles: The entrance will feature a rhythmic flashing-light art display by Jamie Carpenter; the lobby will have an enormous $1 million LED art installation by Jenny Holzer.

Yet 7 World Trade Center has become the building everyone wants to date but no one wants to marry. For starters, Silverstein is asking $50 per square foot, easily the highest price in lower Manhattan. “The companies that have been through it think it’s great, but then they go to Water Street and can get about the same space for a lot cheaper,” says Robert Sammons, director of research for the real-estate firm Colliers ABR.

Morgan Stanley recently did a deal at 1 New York Plaza for $20 a square foot. The Securities and Exchange Commission signed at the World Financial Center, which asks about $35. Silverstein is known to have pitched Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, and they’ve all taken up elsewhere nearby. Con Edison, Verizon, and the United Federation of Teachers also haven’t bitten. Silverstein could always drop his price, or offer givebacks or rebates or free renovations—or the state could offer tax breaks—but despite a slight downward trend in the amount of available space downtown, there are still plenty of more affordable alternatives. Consider 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza, the sleek white tower with the playful Jean Dubuffet sculpture out front, which has more than a half-million square feet of space available at about $35 a foot. Silverstein’s building may be prettier, but $15-a-foot prettier?

Silverstein has given his sales pitch for 7 World Trade Center dozens of times. As of now, he has secured a single tenant: Silverstein Properties.

Silverstein insists 7 World Trade Center and the Freedom Tower will compete not with downtown but with midtown, which historically charges up to double downtown’s rents. He argues that as midtown fills up, high-end firms will drift downtown in search of trophy space. Even if a stadium spurs West Side development, he believes, his first buildings will be ready years before the ones planned for the rail yards. The way he sees it, his only real competition is two midtown towers coming online at about the same time: the Bank of America Building, asking $100 per square foot, and the New York Times Building, asking at least $75. “Seven is the much cheaper alternative by far,” Silverstein says. “For tenants needing 400,000, 500,000, 600,000 feet, they have very few choices.”

The long-term trends would seem to support Silverstein’s case. In Manhattan, there are fewer and fewer places to build, and very little new office space was built in the city in the nineties; as the economy expands, most any new high-quality tower is apt to be successful. But none of this great new demand has happened yet, at least not downtown. “There is no migration from midtown to downtown,” says M. Myers Mermel, a real-estate investor and owner of TenantWise, which tracks office space downtown. Mermel has found that for every office tenant that has moved from midtown to downtown since 9/11, four have gone in the other direction. There are reasons to believe that won’t change any time soon. Downtown buildings have to compete with Midtown South and Jersey City, Mermel says, and even with the promised $2 billion transit hub, downtown will continue to be a two-train ride away from Morris County, Fairfield County, the North Shore of Long Island—almost everywhere the executive class of New York lives.

Then there’s the X-factor: It’s still creepy down there. Before construction, Silverstein offered one prospect an early quote of $40 per square foot and was told that the company didn’t want its employees staring into a “construction site”—a charitable term for what is still, in some sense, an open grave. Even now, looking down into ground zero from a high floor, prospective tenants must wonder if their employees will abandon them, or if the best and brightest won’t sign on in the first place, because they—or their spouses and children—just don’t want them to spend five days a week in the place that terrorists have tried twice to destroy. As bad as it is for 7 World Trade Center, the Freedom Tower may be worse. “We have heard from tenants that they think those reconstructed buildings will be targets,” Mermel says.

Silverstein’s blanket response, aside from reflexively ticking off the safety features of 7 World Trade Center and its future neighbors, is the patriotism argument: Rebuilding is what New Yorkers do best; to go on living and working downtown is to show that the terrorists have lost. He also holds fast to the notion that time—and $14 billion in capital improvements—will temper fears of terrorism. In a few years, he says, the swank new amenities of the new World Trade Center will create a forward-looking place with none of the bad memories of ground zero.

Still, Silverstein can seem almost willfully naïve about how sensitive people can be. We’re in a boardroom at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Silverstein’s architects, where he’s agreed to take me through a sample pitch for 7 World Trade Center, punctuated freely with the words massive and spectacular. Red laser pointer in hand, Silverstein motions at a slide depicting a woman in the building’s lobby, heading toward an unusually high-tech elevator—another fabulous amenity. Visitors and workers, Silverstein says, will have a computer chip granting them access to the upper floors.

“The door closes behind her, and she doesn’t have to press a button,” he tells me. “There are no buttons to press! It’s a buttonless elevator system, right? It’s all automatic! Now! If she wants to visit a girlfriend on another floor, she can’t do that; she’s in deep trouble, right? There are no buttons in the elevator! So what she has to do …”

“She has to reason with the elevator?” I ask.

He smiles impatiently. “No, she can’t even reason. But! There’s a special button pad in the lobby in each elevator bank. There’s a button pad on each of the floors as well. But once you’re on the elevator, forget it! There will be no buttons!”

There’s a tightness in my chest.

“May I ask a safety question?”

“Sure!” he says.

“If you’re trapped in the elevator, do you have any control at all?”

“Oh, absolutely,” he says. “You have the same controls you have today. It’s no different.”

“But you have no button pad.”

“You don’t need it,” Silverstein says, exasperated. “People will be helping—communicating with you—from outside. The result is, you get about a 10 percent increase in elevator efficiency. It’s truly extraordinary! New Yorkers are always in such a goddamn rush, this’ll be fantastic!”

He throws up his hands, triumphant.

“Buttons are a thing of the past!”

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Silverstein was in his Park Avenue apartment, squabbling with his wife, Klara, about how he had to get to work on the 88th floor of the north tower, where he was moving his company’s offices.

Klara gave him an icy stare. Silverstein had a dermatologist’s appointment—after a lifetime of boating, he has a history of facial carcinomas—and there was no way he was missing the appointment. “So you’ll be there early tomorrow,” she told him.

Before he left, the phone rang. It was the captain of the Silversteins’ 130-foot yacht, which was docked at the piers in Chelsea with a clear view of downtown.

“Turn on your TV,” the captain said.

As surreal as it was for most of us to witness, one after the other, the explosion and collapse of the tallest buildings in New York, it was stranger still for the man who had just bought them. First he thought of his children. Silverstein’s son, Roger, was in the parking garage of the original 7 World Trade when the first plane hit, and his daughter Lisa was turned away by police farther uptown; they both work for their father. Others in Silverstein’s employ weren’t as fortunate. “We lost four people,” he says, “and they had six kids among them.” Lisa Silverstein saw some of the light in her father’s eyes dim after that day. “There was something that was sucked out of him—a spontaneity and almost a kidlike spirit,” she says. “Time and efficiency became the most important thing in his life. He started to say, ‘I have no time for green bananas anymore.’”

Another developer might have used the enormity of the moment to get the property seized by the state—to cut loose control of the site and the financial risk that came with it. Silverstein used what insurance proceeds he had to keep paying the rent to the Port Authority—$120 million a year, escalating over the next fifteen years to over $200 million—and start planning new towers. Ignoring survivors who said he was moving too quickly to build offices on hallowed ground, he spent six weeks patrolling the halls of Congress to win the same protection from lawsuits that the airlines had. Then there was a mounting battle with the towers’ insurers, which had ensnared him in a Catch-22: The $3.6 billion he was entitled to wasn’t nearly enough to replace all 10 million square feet—but if he didn’t rebuild all 10 million square feet the way the lease specified, he wouldn’t be entitled to all the $3.6 billion. “Any less than 10 million feet, we give the insurance companies a gift,” he says.

He fumed as his authority over the site was questioned: by the victims’ families, by city planners, even by Giuliani, now an American hero, who in his final speech as mayor called for Silverstein’s new buildings to be built someplace else. When the Times editorial page suggested the creation of a new governmental entity to rebuild the site quickly, Silverstein’s name was not mentioned. He ignored the media and focused on wooing the man who held most of the power downtown: George Pataki.

The governor had his own considerations—should he sanctify the site as a park or memorial, or back Silverstein? It was, after all, an election year, so he took political cover: In November 2001, Pataki announced the creation of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the state agency that would devise a master plan for the sixteen-acre site. There was no assurance that all 10 million feet of Silverstein’s office space would be part of the final master plan; Silverstein had no vote in the LMDC. “It’s fair to say he was a nonentity,” says LMDC member Roland Betts. “Larry did not have a seat at the table.”

There was another reason to marginalize Silverstein—he and Pataki weren’t exactly friends. It didn’t help that he supported Mario Cuomo in the 1994 election that had brought Pataki into office. It also didn’t help that Silverstein was pushy. “Generally speaking, everybody found him impossible and full of shit,” says one lawyer close to the interaction between the governor and Silverstein, adding that LMDC president Kevin Rampe, then–Port Authority chief Joe Seymour, and Pataki chief of staff John Cahill “all hated him.” Rampe denies this, Seymour declined to comment, and Cahill, with a noticeable lack of warmth, says, “Larry’s a very ambitious, aggressive developer. And that’s why he’s been successful.”

In January 2003, days before the commission was to choose a master planner for the site, Silverstein fired off a letter to LMDC chairman John Whitehead asserting his right to rebuild all 10 million square feet. The letter was a gauntlet: Leaked to local politicians and the media, its most blistering feature was the declaration that whichever master planner the LMDC chose would have to work with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, whom Silverstein had already hired to devise a site plan and design for the main tower. Silverstein’s message was clear. The power of his lease could not be ignored, and attempts to push him aside would cost serious time and money. What’s more, without Silverstein’s rent payments, the Port Authority might have to consider raising tolls on bridges and tunnels, and Pataki would have another political headache.

Silverstein’s most public clash with the governor came over the design of the Freedom Tower. Pataki had picked Libeskind as the master planner for the sixteen-acre site, but Silverstein wanted Childs, his architect from Skidmore, to design the first and tallest tower. It was a forced marriage. “I don’t want you touching my building,” Silverstein is said to have told Libeskind, adding, “Danny, you’ve never designed a skyscraper. If I’m going to have heart surgery, I don’t want a surgeon who’s never done heart surgery before.”

Libeskind’s Freedom Tower may have had poetry on its side, but to Silverstein it had a small floor plate and columns that are inconvenient for tenants. Silverstein also thought it was too short and that the off-center spire was needlessly expensive. Childs, meanwhile, designed a 2,000-foot tower that twisted around a concrete core, providing the column-free interior spaces that office tenants adore. The governor tried to force the two architects into collaborating, triggering a boardroom farce that unfolded publicly—almost like a serial in the media, complete with leaked accusations of sabotage and the enlistment of lawyers.

In December 2003, Silverstein cornered Pataki at a black-tie event at the Waldorf to plead Childs’s case against Libeskind’s off-center spire. Pataki’s patience had run out. “Larry was trying to make the pitch again that ‘we can’t do the replica of the Statue of Liberty,’ ” remembers John Cahill. “And the governor goes, ‘Larry. Look at the Statue of Liberty. The torch does not come out of her head, okay?’” Silverstein capitulated, and the spire was moved to the side. Even Libeskind—who had sued Silverstein for back pay and bitterly described him as “not a man who cares much about how things look”—now admits, “I have an appreciation for the soft side of Larry. He didn’t get to be where he was by being a stupid man.” But if Silverstein lost the battle over the spire, he won the war. “It’s clear that Childs had a design in mind for the site, and essentially that’s what’s going up, plus a television tower,” says Alexander Garvin, the urban planner and former vice-president of the LMDC.

Silverstein lacks the shameless-showboat gene of a Donald Trump, and he doesn’t pack the sheer financial muscle of city real-estate heavyweights like Jerry Speyer or the Dursts. Nor is it Silverstein’s constitutional optimism that makes him stand out—that’s standard-issue for a developer. What’s unique about Silverstein, colleagues say, is his passionate salesmanship and his knack for betting on long shots—quite often, wisely.

Silverstein was born during the Depression in Bedford-Stuyvesant and raised within smelling distance of the Gowanus. His father, Harry, a Russian-Jewish immigrant, was a classical pianist who taught himself to be a broker of two-bit loft spaces in the rag district. Larry went to work for his father to put himself through NYU and returned full-time after graduation. Frustrated with the penny wages of a real-estate broker, he started buying cheap buildings in the late fifties with investors, fixing them up and flipping them like his idol, Harry Helmsley. These weren’t just any buildings. They were dumps in lousy neighborhoods that, as a broker, Larry sensed were undervalued. He lacked the financing and flash of other developers, but he had a marketing sensibility and an almost religious zeal in renting new property. “You’ve got to believe it to sell,” he says, remembering the days he persuaded friends and strangers to invest $5,000 or $10,000 in his buildings. “You’ve got to sell with a passion.”

He’s been married to the same woman since 1956. Around Klara, Silverstein is less brusque and frenetic, more calm and playful. They met as counselors at a Jewish summer camp, and she was teaching him how to run a dishwasher. “She was Attila the Hun!” Silverstein says.

“Couldn’t you at least call me Attila the Honey?” she says.

He winks. “You know, one of the reasons I married her was she was very wealthy,” he says. “She was earning $3,200 a year as a schoolteacher. I bought her engagement ring for $1,000. Made a sale, sold a building, that earned $1,000. Huge amount of money.”

“But basically we lived on my salary,” Klara reminds him. “By the way, it’s still the same ring. He has offered to get me bigger stones, and I said no. It wouldn’t be my engagement ring. Buy me a ring if you want, but this stays.”

Larry and Klara settled in White Plains and had three children: Lisa and Roger work for him; the oldest, Sharon, is a Harvard M.B.A. turned homemaker in California. He and Klara moved to Park Avenue after the kids grew up, but they assemble all the kids and grandkids together for jaunts on Silverstein’s yacht. The boat is his sanctuary; he’s partial to three- or four-day weekends and, before 9/11, he and Klara had planned to take it around the world.

“Someone once thought they’d make me jealous that they called the boat his mistress,” Klara says, “and I replied, ‘Isn’t he lucky he can be in the arms of his mistress and his wife at the same time?’ ”

Silverstein built his career by becoming an expert in buying and flipping properties. He bought 11 West 42nd Street, near Bryant Park before its renaissance. He built on the far West Side, at 42nd west of Eleventh Avenue, and in lower Manhattan at 120 Broadway, a 1.8 million-square-foot giant occupying a full square block, steps from Wall Street. By the eighties, he controlled more than 10 million square feet of Manhattan residential and commercial space and was a millionaire several times over. But he lacked a centerpiece, something to define his career. He set his sights on the last undeveloped parcel of the World Trade Center, at the northern tip of the site, and in 1980 he won the bid from the Port Authority to build the original 7 World Trade. Not long after he built that 47-story behemoth, he began to wonder what it would be like to own the Twin Towers. He saw them as the ultimate fixer-upper, in the ultimate undervalued neighborhood; everyone in the real-estate world knew the buildings needed renovations to command the rents they deserved. “The materials were beautiful, but in many ways it needed to sparkle,” he says. “When you walked in, it was important to look at it and say, God, this is spectacular.”

In the highly publicized ramp-up to the final bid, Silverstein was barely noticed among competitors like Vornado and Mort Zuckerman’s Boston Properties. Then, on a weekday evening in January 2001, five days before the bid was due, Silverstein was walking home from Le Cirque when, as he was crossing 57th and Madison, a drunk driver swerved right into him.

There are those who suspect Pataki is banking on Silverstein to default on his lease—that he’s used Silverstein for his insurance money.

His pelvis was crushed—“If I wasn’t dead, I was gonna die,” he says—but once he’d been stabilized at the hospital, Silverstein told his doctors to dial down the morphine; he needed a clear head to formulate the final bid. His employees visited him at the hospital, where they worked round-the-clock to finish the bid in time. His $3.2 billion bid lost to Vornado Realty Trust by $50 million. “A rounding error, basically,” he says. But by the time he got out of the hospital, Vornado had dropped out—it had too much trouble navigating the Port Authority bureaucracy—and Silverstein was in. His experience with the Port Authority made it comparatively easy for him to close the deal.

What made the Trade Center more important than his pelvis? Silverstein had spent six months on the project; it had been so consuming that he had abandoned all of his other deals. “I remember,” Silverstein says, “I said, ‘I’m not gonna let my competitors get me this way. They’re not gonna knock me out like this.’”

Silverstein’s dream scenario is for each tower to make enough money to build the next one, and for all five office buildings to be completed by 2013. By then, the memorial and PATH terminal and retail would presumably be done, and Silverstein would be hailed as the man who helped downtown rise from the ashes.

All sorts of things, of course, could sink that dream. Libeskind’s off-center spire and television antenna atop Childs’s Freedom Tower is turning into an engineering nightmare, and it’s not clear who will pay to resolve it. The Deutsche Bank building was supposed to be knocked down in December; it’s still there, plagued by air-quality problems. Fiterman Hall, an unsightly shell steps away from 7 World Trade controlled by the City University of New York, is still standing too, and there’s no plan yet for even a cleanup. A debate is raging over a proposal to sink four lanes of West Street underground, allowing visitors to ground zero to walk freely to and from the Hudson waterfront. The costly West Street tunnel project could tie up traffic for years—and has already alienated Goldman Sachs, which had planned to build its own tower where the state wants to place the tunnel’s northern mouth. Silverstein himself is 73, and he has no clear plans for succession. “The team has expanded significantly in size and in diversity” is all he will say. “And this staff, with our family, will just continue this operation.”

The Freedom Tower, meanwhile, has already been postponed a few months. If there’s any significant delay—if Silverstein runs out of insurance money waiting for tenants—he may be found in default and lose the right to develop. There’s always been speculation that the Port Authority is waiting to scoop up the lease; right now, the agency is looking for 400,000 square feet, but it hasn’t signed with Silverstein at 7 World Trade, reviving rumors that it’s rooting for Silverstein to fail. There are those who suspect that Pataki is banking on Silverstein to default—that he’s used the developer for his insurance money all along. If Silverstein is forced out, the whole project could again be up for grabs. The next developer could ignore the Libeskind model and the Silverstein model and do anything he wants.

Silverstein won’t entertain doomsday scenarios. He’s a speculator and a salesman. The World Trade Center is the biggest long shot of his life. It’s not in him to let it go.

Circling the site in the backseat of his Mercedes, Silverstein gestures wildly out the window. He’s pitching again.

“We have major mass transit,” he tells me. “We have major residential, we’re gonna have major retail, we’re gonna have the best buildings ever built in an economic environment that favors everything we’re doing.”

We’re driving down an as-yet-unsunken West Street, rolling past a gaping construction pit. The open grave.

“How can we lose?” he says. “How can we miss?”

Who Wants to Move to Ground Zero?