It has been 22 years since the terrorist attacks on 9/11, yet the process of rebuilding — and healing — continues.
But the effort has come a long way, and lower Manhattan is thriving today, albeit with a new look and feel.
The main organizations behind the rebuild have been Silverstein Properties, owned by Larry Silverstein, and the New York Port Authority, the government agency that owns the land where much of the new infrastructure has been built, including a train station, underground shopping and parking.
Silverstein, who purchased the Twin Towers just weeks before the 2001 attack, developed the office buildings that have risen around the site.
The first building to go up was Seven World Trade Center, and it opened in May 2006. At first, it was difficult to get companies to lease space in the building due to memories of 9/11, according to Silverstein spokesman Dara McQuillan. Silverstein was not able to fill that building until 2012, but it has been fully leased for many years.
The next building to open on the 16-acre site was Four World Trade Center in 2013, and it was fully leased within three years. Then, in 2018, Three World Trade Center opened. After a lull during the pandemic, the building is now 90% occupied.
The most recent office building to rise at the site is Three World Trade Center. It is now 90% leased by a host of companies, including Uber, McKinsey & Company and Hudson River Trading.
The occupancy rates in the completed WTC buildings would be the envy of most commercial property owners across the country, including those in other areas of New York City, but McQuillan says the neighborhood is now an outlier. And he thinks it is because of the events of 9/11.
Yet the average age of the people who work in the new WTC buildings is 28, which means they would have been around 6 at the time of the terrorist attacks. So, many have little or no memory of it. But it’s not just the new developments that have changed the look and feel of the area.
Over the past few decades, the residential population in Manhattan has risen from 15,000 to 75,000.
“This is no longer a financial district,” McQuillan told FOX Business. “If you walk down Wall Street today, you’re more likely to run into somebody with a stroller than somebody with a briefcase.”
McQuillan describes the area as a place of art and culture, which was part of the vision for rebuilding it. A new performing arts center is opening on the site this week, and, for years, Silverstein has allowed dozens of artists to work rent-free out of the open office spaces in the new WTC buildings that have not yet been leased to companies.
One of those artists is Kerry Irvine, whose sister, Kristy Irvine-Ryan, was killed in the attacks of 9/11. Kristy was a trader who worked for Sandler O’Neill in the South Tower.
Devastated over the loss of her sister, Irvine stopped painting for about eight years due to her grief. For many years, she avoided the place where her sister died.
“I went to, I think, the 10-year anniversary at the memorial. And maybe I had gone to one other, but I really stayed away from that area,” she told FOX Business. “I was pretty fearful. It was a scary place for me. And so I just ignored it.”
After the 2008 market crash, Irvine slowly began painting again in tribute to her sister and eventually was able to sustain herself full time as an artist, working out of her kitchen. In 2017, a friend told Irvine about the spaces available at the new WTC developments, and she went to look at the studio of another artist in one of the buildings.
She remembers stepping off the subway that day onto the WTC site and looking across the street to where her sister’s name is inscribed on the memorial. Then, when she entered the studio space in Four WTC, she immediately felt incredibly calm.
Irvine contacted Silverstein and moved into a studio space in WTC later that year and has been painting rent-free in various spaces in WTC buildings ever since. Now, her studio is on the 80th floor of Seven WTC with a 360-degree view of the city.
“I’m on the top floor, looking down … and there’s my sister, and I know she’s with me every day when I paint,” Irvine said. “I can get out of the subway, and I can go touch her name and say hello and get some energy and go up and work. And I never in a million years would have believed that that’s where I would be painting.”
Irvine said working out of the new WTC buildings has been the finishing point of her healing.
“It can still bring you to your knees at times when you realize how much time has passed, and you really miss them,” she said. “But life goes on, and you have to keep moving forward, because what’s the alternative? She would have never forgiven me if I just stopped living.”