ULI New York Blog

‘Five Minutes With’ feat. Larry A. Silverstein, Chairman, Silverstein Properties 

This week’s ‘Five Minutes With’ features Larry A. Silverstein, Chairman, Silverstein Properties whose project – 3 World Trade – is a 2019 Awards Finalist for Excellence in Office Development.

Who has had the greatest influence on your career and what was the best advice he or she gave you?

Probably the best advice I ever had, was my father talking about the New York Times in terms of whether or not to do something in life. He said “you know, if you are about to do something, and you are wondering whether or not it’s right to do, or not right to do, and you have a sudden issue of conscience. Should you do it, or should you not do it, just think about if you would be at all concerned by putting this issue on the front page on the New York Times. Would you have any glimpse of hesitation? And if the answer is yes, just don’t do it. And if the answer is no, you would have no hesitation …. You should go ahead and do it.”  So, have used it in my life many, many times when confronted with a major decision. I’ve always told my people at Silverstein Properties, I’ve said, ‘it’s advice that I was given by my father many, many years ago. And by golly, I’ve used it zillions of times. And it worked very well for me.’ Therefore, I recommend it to them.

What qualities do you think are essential to be an effective leader?

When I started rebuilding 7 World Trade Center, everyone told me I was crazy. All I heard was, “you’ll never get it finished. You’ll never get it financed. Nobody is going to want to work in a World Trade Center Tower again. Downtown is finished as a business district.” Whether you are in real estate or any other industry, you are going to hear a million different reasons why you can’t do what you want to do. Sometimes, the naysayers are going to sound logical and persuasive.  So pretty early on you have to recognize what’s real and what’s important to you, and what’s white noise or irrelevant.  And you cannot allow yourself to lose your focus or be distracted with that stuff.  You have to have the courage of your convictions.

We opened 7 WTC five years after 9/11.  Designed by my good friend David Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, it was the first green office tower in New York City history.  It is one of the safest buildings ever built, and a model not just for all the other World Trade Center buildings, but also for the modern American skyscraper.  The building quickly filled up with a diverse group of companies, including branding, technology and media companies, as well as law and financial services firms. It has clearly been a tremendous architectural, artistic and commercial success.  That success set the stage for the rest of the WTC site and for a reborn Downtown. So let me tell you, when anyone says “it can’t be done”, tell yourself, “yes it can, and I’m going to do it.”  When anyone asks you “why?” ask them “why not?”

As a ULI NY Awards nominee, what makes you most proud of your project?

After 9/11, there was a great debate over what should be built at the World Trade Center.  It was quintessential New York:  passionate, loud and fractious; but one thing was clear – the new World Trade Center needed to be much more than what it had been before. Of course, we all agreed that our primary responsibility was to commemorate those we lost.  At the same time, however, we had to restore the commerce that has defined the lower tip of Manhattan throughout the City’s history.  Throughout the process, everyone involved was mindful of the delicate balance that had to be achieved. We began by working with Daniel Libeskind to create a Master Plan that addressed those different goals:  It knitted together a fitting and moving tribute to those that lost their lives, a bustling street level experience with grand open spaces, a train station, as well as new office buildings and stores.  Then I worked with a team of incredible people: architects, engineers, urban planners, sustainability experts and even artists. For them – and for me – it wasn’t just another job. It was a mission to rebuild and create something great out of the devastation of 9/11. At the end of the day, our vision was to create a better version of New York.  That vision is now a reality.  Today the new World Trade Center has come alive as a dynamic public space with timeless architecture – and is home to some of the city’s most exciting companies. Our experience here proves that when passionate New Yorkers work together, we can overcome anything and achieve anything.  I think I can speak for all of us when I say how proud I am to have been a part of this.  Together we have reinvented what it means to be a city for the 21st Century.

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