NEW YORK CITY-The fur is flying in the wake of comments attributed to Port Authority of New York & New Jersey chairman Anthony Coscia implying that a move into the yet-to-be-built Freedom Tower may be less than wise. In an interview with the Hackensack, NJ-based Record, Coscia was quoted as saying that twice, PA employees were victimized by terrorist attacks, “and I am not going to ask them to move into that building. I’ll resign, but I won’t ask them to move into that building.”

Ironically, the comments come to light just days before a Port Authority board meeting during which, it is expected, Silverstein Properties will hand over the keys to the tower, which is slated for a 2011 completion. At that meeting, set for this Thursday, the players are expected to lock down the PA’s lease for some 600,000 sf at 4 World Trade Center, also due online in 2011. No one we talked with expects Coscia’s comments to derail either deal.

Calls to the Port Authority were not returned by press time, and the people at Silverstein Properties refused to comment. But there was no shortage of reaction from the major brokerages around town. Given the political nature of the issue and the hand some of the players have in the lease-up, many spoke to only on conditions of anonymity.

“This should not have been done in the media,” says one observer, critical of the medium more than the message. “It’s disappointing to have that kind of news shared in the media. That should have been handled in a different setting and strategically assessed as to whether the decision is to go or not go to the site.” Decisions of this sort, he says, need to be made as an integrated process, “not in isolation.”

By extension the source wondered what the outcome would be if each potential Freedom Tower tenant “looked at it strictly from their own perspective. We will have challenging times down there indeed.” When asked if that self-interest wasn’t the goal of any space user, he pointed out that the Port Authority “is not any tenant.”

But the problem comes down to a lack of leadership well above the Port Authority level, and the source lays a good helping of blame at the doorstep of Gov. George Pataki. “We needed someone to be a catalyst and integrate everyone’s business drivers and objectives,” he states. “Pataki has not done this.”

“I find it regrettable that the person who will ultimately be responsible for leasing would say that,” says another source. “It will make the job of leasing that much harder.”

But not all executives we spoke with see the comments as problematic. Trammell Crow executive brokerage director Ken Krasnow is one.

“I can understand the emotional perspective for people who experienced the attacks,” he says. “But as time passes, the site and the building are still going to be viewed as a statement of our will and resolve. Remember, a lot of people said the same thing about 7 World Trade.”

The Port Authority ultimately has time on its side, Krasnow concludes. “Ultimately, the building will rent,” he says. “Four or five years from now, given a willingness to rent and an appetite for world-class real estate, which this certainly is, the building will relate more to market dynamics than to any comments made today.”

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