When Is a Tower More Than a Tower?

DEC 18, 2012 2:00pm ET

WE’RE HEARING …  that the spire for the new World Trade Center will take about three months to put in place (the first piece arrived last week) and that the oft-delayed New York City building will actually open sometime in 2014. Official completion date is late 2013 but we all know how good completion estimates are: useless!

But there’s more to this story than the building of a huge CRE project.

I recently got a close-up view of One World Trade Center, courtesy of a presser held on the 55th floor of next-door neighbor the Hilton Millenium. (I know, there are two “n”s in Millennium but the sign on the outside of the building only has one so I’m going with that. Note to all descendants of Conrad Hilton—find an architect that can spell!)

Tech vendor Mortgage Builder was announcing its latest product at the event. CEO Keven Smith brought me over to the window and there was One WTC (formerly called the Freedom Tower) about one hundred feet away. It is extravagantly beautiful, a real showstopper. No offense, Keven, but the sight of it banished all thoughts of mortgage technology from my mind.

One World Trade Center is a huge commercial real estate project, one that has taken many years to get this close to completion and one that has cost many billions of dollars.

But this is a case where a tower is more than a tower.

In my own case, I realized that I had never looked at the new World Trade Center before, despite the fact it already is the biggest building on the New York City skyline (it tops out at a patriotic 1,776 feet).

I was in Manhattan and lived through the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and I did not want to revisit the flood of memories that the tower brings back for me. I pause typing about this even now. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

Those of us who survived 9-11, like survivors of all traumatic events, thought nothing much had happened to us. The dead thousands and their families were the ones that had suffered the tragedy. And of course they did suffer an enormous tragedy, one the rest of us have no way of understanding.

The rest of us, though, and those that survived the attack on the Pentagon, and to some extent the entire country, did suffer a nasty trauma (made worse by the constant replays of the crashes on television).

Eleven people from our then-parent company died in the towers. The former chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York died. Dozens of mortgage bond traders at firms like Cantor Fitzgerald and Sandler O’Neill died. An evil smell that they did not talk about on television penetrated much of Manhattan. And thousands of homemade “Missing” posters were attached to any surface that would take them, and fluttered in the wind for months.

So, this is a case where a tower is more than a tower. This particular tower is a beacon of hope and faith, a touchstone for grief and in its immense and comforting beauty, an instrument of healing. So if you come to New York, you should come down and take a look at the Freedom Tower (sorry, Port Authority, that’s what I’m always going to call it). Then, visit the memorial to the victims of 9/11 at its foot.

And gentlemen, please remove your hats.

STARTING FRIDAYBrian Collins and I are combining forces to bring you a weekly report which will draw on our total of more than 50 years covering the mortgage business, me as the editor of National Mortgage News, and he as Senior Editor and DC bureau chief. Look for a lively mix of Beltway and national news culled from the most knowledgeable sources we know!

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