NEW YORK — We are witnesses to a great tragedy of our time — the destruction of the World Trade Center, a landmark building complex, which following a dual terrorist attack crumbled to the ground, leaving behind dust, debris and our shattered innocence. Real estate is connected to the fundamentals of our existence. Buildings provide shelter where we work and live, and violating that sanctity is an act of horror. My advice to you is that we must all find a way to recover.
As a New York resident, I am irrevocably changed by this event that has taken my neighbors as victims. I, along with a nation, am mourning the many lives lost and am trying to grapple with a world where this kind of targeted violence and hatred exist. The main concern right now is finding other people who might have survived. As rescue workers shift through the rubble and listen for voices, we rejoice as firefighters were found alive. Meanwhile, the rest of us must go on with our daily travails.
Recovery of the nation and of New York already is beginning. I have witnessed the love, concern and compassion of New Yorkers, fellow citizens, families and friends during this time. We are pulling together, telling stories of bravery and of providence. We are determined, and we have the grit to carry on.
Likewise, the New York commercial real estate industry professionals are working together as compassionate teams to find space for companies located in the World Trade Center and the Financial District. With the disappearance of at least 12 million sq. ft. (estimates vary) of office space in Manhattan, and only 5 to 6 million sq. ft. available, the clock is ticking. Companies once again need to be up and running to provide a living for their employees and keep the economic engine humming.
As we speak, real estate companies are mobilizing to find space to temporarily house companies and employees whose very livelihood is at stake. The demand is immediate, and the professionals are meeting the call for action.
“This is a unique situation that's never happened before,” said Michael Berne, senior managing director at Grubb & Ellis in New York. “Most of the companies and folks I deal with on every side of real estate are trying to approach it as a group.”
This situation isn't a typical business deal. It requires real estate professionals to act with multiplied compassion and understanding. The wounds are fresh, and the people and companies that these professionals are working out business deals with are emotional. “We're trying to do what's appropriate,” Berne said. “What's appropriate is that when you look back two years later, you're proud of what you did.”
The term used by Charlie Shorter, principal at New York-based Ernst & Young's Real Estate Advisory Group, is “compassionate deal-making.” He said that E&Y is actively advising companies searching for space and working together with organizations such as Grubb & Ellis, Cushman & Wakefield, and New York's Economic Development Council.
The situation evolves and requires constant adjustments. “It's really an hour-by-hour situation,” Berne said. In the few moments before we spoke, the American Express tower had just toppled after retaining structural damage.
“There's tremendous pressure to find and locate space,” Shorter said. “New York businesses are not going to sit and wring their hands — they are actively trying to regrow their businesses.”
So for the next few months the focus will be on finding temporary to permanent space for the displaced tenants, whether it is in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, New Jersey, or Long Island. Some companies are expected to consolidate into other existing office spaces. Others will find new space.
Some real estate veterans are convinced the area where the World Trade Center once stood will be rebuilt. “It's got to be replaced,” Shorter said. “The political/private sectors will not let the New York skyline sit naked for 10 years. You're going to see something that will come back there.”
Emerging from the smoke and ashes, a community of heroes ranging from firemen, policemen, emergency workers, medical professionals, volunteers, and the average citizen, are stepping forward. The unsung heroes will be behind the scenes, finding a way to go forward and assist those who need it. This terrorist tragedy will not stop us from rebuilding the city and healing the nation.
Cristina Gair is an associate editor for NREI.