Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the World Trade Tower attacks and it has been a long slow comeback for the area that has come to be known as Ground Zero. Santiago Calatrava’s oft-delayed and over-budget World Trade Center Transportation Hub finally opened this year, veritable eons after the completion of 4 World Trade Center, the 9-11 Memorial and Museum and One World Trade Center (aka the building formerly known as the Freedom Tower). The last two have become full-blown tourist attractions, while the Transportation Hub has at last been transformed into the shopping mall it was always meant to be. Three World Trade Center is rising, and somewhere on the horizon there is 2 World Trade Center as well.
But through all of this, one critical component of the master plan to rebuild Ground Zero has gone missing: the WTC’s performing arts center. Now that, too, is apparently coming together.
The New York Times reported its resurrection, with a reveal of a new design by architectural firm REX, who took over the project after Frank Gehry, the center’s original designer, was basically fired. (His proposal was perhaps a bit too Frank-Gehry-ish, and would have undoubtedly cost a bundle. It seems the Port Authority learned its lesson with Calatrava’s Hub.) In June, billionaire businessman Ronald O. Perelman ponied up $75 million to get the ball rolling on the center (which—surprise!—will be named for him), and none other than Barbra Streisand has been elected to head up the board.
REX’s design consists of a huge, 90,000-square-foot cube featuring an facade of thin translucent marble panels sheathed by an outer shell of glass. The idea is that during the day, the building will have an appropriately somber look for its sacred-ground setting. But at night, it will softly light up like a Japanese lantern. When finished, it will house three small theaters that can accommodate theater, dance, music and opera productions, as wells as screenings for the Tribeca Film festival.
While the WTC rebuilding has had a habit of dashing hopes, this time could be for real. And it’s important to remember that due to red tape, lawsuits and other impediments, it takes on average a good 20 or more years to completely revamp an entire part of town. That was the case with Times Square’s Disneyfication, and was also true when the old New York Coliseum on Columbus Circle was replaced with the Time Warner Center. Thinking of it that way, the WTC site may very well finish ahead of schedule. But don’t hold your breath.