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NEW YORK CITY-”Downtown is proving naysayer’s wrong.” So said Larry Silverstein, president and CEO of Silverstein Properties Inc., in regards to those who believed Downtown was finished after 9/11. The Center for Real Estate Studies at New York Law School presented its one-year anniversary breakfast forum with the World Trade Center developer as its guest speaker on “Building the Future of Lower Manhattan,” on Thursday morning, at the Law School, located at 47 Worth St.

“The redevelopment of the World Trade Center is one of the most challenging and critical real estate projects facing New York City,” explained Professor Andrew Berman, director of the Center for Real Estate Studies. “Not only is the successful redevelopment of the World Trade Center site vital to the future of New York City, but it is also especially important to the New York Law School community given our close proximity.”

Silverstein pointed out to attendees–which included the general public as well as students–that “we are involved in what’s going on Downtown,” noting that those who study, work and live in the neighborhood are the reason why it is such an exciting developable opportunity. “Many believed that Downtown was dead after 5 p.m. and quiet on the weekends,” Silverstein said; however, “the Downtown economy is durable and everlasting. It is reinventing itself.”

He noted that “for years, the rebuilding of the World Trade Center seemed in disarray, and it was. We had to call on our optimism. Now, years later, it is booming.” New shops are opening every week, he explained, adding that hotels and restaurants are continuously opening as well. “Vacancy rates are now at 6.2%.” However, he did note that although there is demand for Downtown living space, which attracts retail to the area, “in order to remain a world class business district, Downtown needs new office space, which is what we are doing at the World Trade Center Towers.”

As GlobeSt.com recently reported from Wednesday’s New York Building Congress luncheon, the Freedom Tower, also called 1 WTC, as well as Towers 2, 3, and 4 are all scheduled for completion by 2012. Silverstein again echoed that date at Thursday’s breakfast presentation, telling attendees that “You can count on that schedule.”

The future of WTC, and the state of Downtown as a whole, will be spotlighted on May 13 at RealShare Downtown New York.

Silverstein’s presentation was disrupted when several attendees began questioning him about the events of 9/11. After some hecklers were escorted out of the room, and despite many questions grilling him over the specifics of what transpired on 9/11, Silverstein continued with talk of a recession and how that would affect vacancy rates in general and financing for the $20-billion WTC project specifically. “Of the 184 companies that moved Downtown between 2005 and 2007, most are not in the financial sector,” he said, pointing to 7 World Trade Center as an example of such diversified tenants. He also explained that he doesn’t expect vacancy rates to hike because “Downtown is the workplace of choice. …You can lease space at a discount. If we all keep pulling our oars, we are going to get there and make Downtown the best place to live and work.”

Silverstein explained that the financing for the WTC project is being divided in a number of ways. “The $7 billion that we are spending on Towers 2, 3, and 4 are coming from insurance company proceeds and liberty bond financing. The Freedom Tower is being paid for by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Goldman Sachs is spending $2 billion on its building; Morgan Stanley is spending $2 billion on its building. And with the government paying for infrastructure and the mayor’s contributions, we are pretty much set.”

Silverstein Properties owns, manages, and has developed 20 million sf of office, residential, and retail. In May 2006, Silverstein Properties opened 7 World Trade Center, a 52-story, 1.7-million-sf office tower at 250 Greenwich St., just north of the World Trade Center site. More than 75% of the building is now leased to a diverse group of tenants. In September 2006, designs were unveiled for three new office towers on the World Trade Center site–200, 175, and 150 Greenwich St.–that will be developed by Silverstein Properties. Earlier this year, Silverstein revealed an agreement with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts to operate a hotel and private residences within a new development at 99 Church St. in Downtown Manhattan. The 80-story building is being designed by Robert A.M. Stern and at 912 feet, will be the tallest residential tower in New York, according to Silverstein.

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