One World Trade Centre: the address is back in business

New York marks a new era as Condé Nast is confirmed as skyscraper's main tenants
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The Independent US

There is nothing so restless as the nomenclature of New York's constantly evolving neighbourhoods, yet for hundreds of years – since 18th-century traders first gathered under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street – the lower tip of Manhattan has been firmly, fixedly, forever the Financial District. Perhaps until now.

City officials have hardly been able to contain their joy at the news, long rumoured and finally confirmed this week, that publishing giant Condé Nast will be the main tenant at the new One World Trade Centre skyscraper, the centrepiece of the redevelopment at the site of the fallen Twin Towers.

Suddenly, after years of often fruitless efforts to diversify the businesses of the area, planners are predicting a rush of creative industry players into the vacant and yet-to-be-built office space around the Condé Nast building. In fact, with the publishers of the morning newspaper the Daily News and Playboy magazine already moving in a few blocks east, there is even the prospect of a mini-media district springing up. What now is FiDi to the locals, may one day be MeDi.

Already the area has the fastest-growing residential population in Manhattan. Old office buildings have been converted into luxury apartments, and as a result significant space on the World Trade Centre site has been earmarked for retailers and restaurants.

So enamoured were the local authorities with the idea of attracting the publisher of Vogue and Vanity Fair, that they have granted a slew of special privileges to the company, including multi-million dollar tax breaks and a promise that the limousines ferrying designers and superstars to its headquarters will be able to sweep through the security cordon around the site.

"When Condé Nast moved to the Times Square area in 1999, it put the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on the revitalisation of that area," says Carl Weisbrod, who helped reshape Lower Manhattan as a city official and is now partner at the property consulting firm HR&A Advisors.

"Its move to Lower Manhattan is even more profound, because it certifies the area as more than just a financial centre. This is a major brand name media company recognising the area as being a cool and edgy place to do business."

You can still hear the echo of popping champagne corks, days after the $2bn, 25-year lease was signed. Michael Bloomberg, the New York City mayor, said "few would have believed it possible" until recently. The governors of two states – New York and New Jersey, both of which have responsibility for the World Trade Centre site – offered their congratulations. The New York Times yesterday carried a full-page ad paid for by leasing agents and investors in the building, declaring: "See you downtown."

Condé Nast is leasing more than one million sq ft of office space in the tower, taking floors 20 to 41 and moving in with about 5,000 staff. Its only other confirmed private sector colleagues in the tower are from a Chinese company called Vantone Industrial, which plans to open a five-floor business and cultural centre.

The redevelopment of the World Trade Centre site has been cursed by years of delay, first because acrimonious public discussion about what should be the appropriate mix of commercial and memorial uses, and then because the financial crisis and recession caused the rental market to tank. Only one building has gone up so far, a new Seven World Trade Centre, which houses traditional financial firms including the credit rating agency Moody's.

One World Trade Centre – until recently known as the Freedom Tower – is the 105-storey centrepiece of the redevelopment, and is now more than half built, with glass already being attached to some of the lower floors. A second skyscraper is also under construction, and both are expected to take their first tenants in 2013.

Two further towers in the site masterplan will be built only to a few storeys initially, until the commercial property market picks up.

One World Trade Centre stands off to the side of where the original Twin Towers stood, and their footprints are being used as the basis for a memorial to the victims of the 11 September 2001, terrorist attacks.

Construction workers have begun testing the dramatic fountains at the heart of the memorial, and it is scheduled to open formally in time for the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

S I Newhouse, Condé Nast's chairman, said the company "has a long history in New York and has thrived in part due to the city's indefatigable energy, power and vitality". On signing the lease this week, he said: "We are proud to be taking part in the revitalisation of Lower Manhattan."

Now, city authorities are looking to see how fast the seeds planted this week will grow. They hope that advertising, graphic design and other creative businesses that work with Condé Nast and its magazines will follow them downtown.

Welcome neighbours?

Emotions have run high over the Ground Zero development project during the past decade, but none have sparked as much debate as a proposal to build a "Ground Zero Mosque" in close proximity to the site where the World Trade Center once stood.

When property developer Sharif El-Gamal announced plans to build an Islamic cultural centre two blocks away from Ground Zero last year, outraged protesters asserted that such a building, so close to the scene of one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in US history, would be an insult to the memories of those who were killed there.

But the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, said America's image and core values would be undermined if the city were to deny Muslims the right to build the faith centre. Mr El-Gamal said the controversy had been an "incredible blessing" because it had helped attract international funding for the centre.