Silverstein plans to build again on New York's rubble

The Towers
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The Independent US

He almost failed in a race to take over the twin towers of the World Trade Centre when he was hit by a drunk-driver. Then, within six weeks, the buildings were demolished by terrorists. But now, Larry Silverstein is bouncing back. To the delight of some Americans and the bewilderment of others, the billionaire property developer has said that he plans to build again on the site of the world's worst terrorist atrocity.

Mr Silverstein, 70, said he is "determined" that the World Trade Centre will rise from the ashes – although fears of a repeat attack mean we are unlikely ever to see anything as tall as 110 storeys.

"It's difficult, to now ask tenants to go up into the upper storeys in 110-storey towers," he told The New York Post.

Instead, Mr Silverstein, a low-key businessman best known as president of the United Jewish Appeal in New York, wants to build four towers of up to 60 storeys with space for a memorial garden.

"The people who have inflicted this upon us are clearly out to destroy our way of life," Mr Silverstein said. "It would be a tragedy to allow them their victory. I believe we must go on to rebuild."

Mr Silverstein secured a 99-year lease from the Port Authority of New York in July for £2.2bn. He completed the bidding process from a hospital bed after a drunk driver left him with a broken pelvis.

Since the attack, he has been inundated with messages of support. Many, he said, want the area to be grassed over as a permanent memorial, but most want him to rebuild, however, high, in a gesture of defiance. Earlier, he told the New York Chamber of Commerce: "We fully expect, hope and pray to rebuild Number 7 [building] and the World Trade Centre."

Mr Silverstein lost four of his staff in the tragedy and could have been killed himself; he had been due to hold a meeting later that morning on the 88th floor. "It's an absolute miracle we didn't get caught," he said. "It makes sleeping difficult. It's so depressing, you have to steel yourself each day; it's the magnitude of the event."

The terms of Silverstein Properties' lease require it to continue paying rent on the towers at a rate of £75m a year. But Mr Silverstein is unfazed. "That's what business interruption insurance is for," he said. The latest estimates of the cost to insurers is in the region of £15bn.