When the World Trade Center's North Tower collapsed Sept. 11, 2001, its top 10 floors hit the Winter Garden — the World Financial Center's atrium located only 500 feet to the west. Tons of debris knocked holes through the glass-dome roof, exposing the Winter Garden's marble-clad interior to the elements for months. Many engineers wrote off the 45,000 sq. ft. building, which housed 22 restaurant and retail tenants, as unsalvageable.

The management of Brookfield Financial Properties, owner of the World Financial Center, had other ideas.

The Toronto-based firm, which is the biggest landlord in Lower Manhattan, overhauled the Winter Garden — originally built at a cost of $65 million in 1988 — for $50 million, re-opening it to the public one week after the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Life is returning to normal at the Winter Garden, where 25,000 World Financial Center office workers gather to eat and shop during the week. “The centerpiece of the World Financial Center and a gemstone of Lower Manhattan has been restored and revitalized,” says Ric Clark, president and CEO of Brookfield.

Shuttered Buildings

Brookfield, which owns roughly 11 million sq. ft. of office space around the Ground Zero perimeter, moved quickly to re-open all of its buildings and renovate the Winter Garden. And Silverstein Properties, leaseholder on the WTC site, is moving ahead with a new building to replace Seven World Trade Center north of Ground Zero.

However, despite these signs of recovery, many office buildings near Ground Zero remain shuttered. According to real estate data provider CoStar Group, only eight of the 17 buildings near Ground Zero have re-opened. The nine buildings that remain closed account for more than 5.5 million sq. ft. of office space.

The closed buildings include 1 Banker's Trust Plaza, which sustained damage during the collapse of the South Tower. Mold that grew after the interior was soaked by its fire sprinklers and left open to the elements has since spread through the entire 40-story building, which is located on the southern edge of Ground Zero. Now, engineers say it would cost less to build a new building than repair the existing one.

West of the plaza, the façade of 90 West Street was severely damaged. The building is structurally sound, but the owner of the building — FGP 90 West St. LLC — has yet to reach a settlement with the insurer. The building, designated a historic landmark in 1998, cannot be torn down under New York City law. Verizon Communication Inc.'s 140 West Street building is expected to open next fall following extensive repairs.

Meanwhile, several buildings in the area have already opened. Brookfield opened 4 World Financial Center one month after the attacks, followed by 1 World Financial Center only weeks later. The firm re-opened the 2.1 million sq. ft. 1 Liberty Plaza, located east of Winter Garden on the other side of Ground Zero, within eight weeks of the attacks. Both 2 and 3 World Financial Center also re-opened earlier this year.

Picking Up — And Polishing — The Pieces

For now, the reopened Winter Garden stands as the beacon of hope for the Downtown market. “The brilliant restoration of the Winter Garden in just under one year was a tremendous achievement for Downtown,” says Carl Weisbrod, president of the Downtown Alliance, a business advocacy group. “The atrium will be an important symbol of Downtown's strength and resilience for years to come.”

Today, a new crop of Washingtonia palm trees stands under the 145-foot high glass dome. The original 43-foot trees, a signature of the Winter Garden, died from exposure after much of the skylight was shattered. More than 60,000 sq. ft. of Italian marble was replaced at a cost of more than $8 million. The space is as impressive as it ever was. But a glance through the 110-foot high window at the east end of the atrium brings visitors face to face with Ground Zero, a reminder of how much is yet to be accomplished Downtown.