The Silverstein group purchased the lease on the World Trade Center for $3.2 billion. With two claims for the maximum amount of the policy, the total
potential payout is $7.1 billion, leaving a hefty windfall profit for Silverstein.
As we write the insurance payments are not going to reach $7.1 billion. The current situation is $4.6 billion at a maximum, although this may be
subject to change (up or down) as a result of court rulings.
And of course this isn't profit for Silverstein. The money is being provided for him to rebuild the WTC complex, and it turns out that's quite
expensive ($6.3 billion in April 2006, see here).
$4.6 billion in insurance money, $6.3 billion in costs? Not such a great deal, then. What’s more, don’t imagine the insurance companies have
handed over all of this money. As we write (June 2006) there are other problems:
Only a month after developer Larry Silverstein predicted it might happen, six World Trade Center insurance companies are making noises about whether
they're going to fork over roughly $770 million in insurance proceeds meant to help rebuild the site.
On Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the insurers a clear message – pay up.
“Nobody's going to walk away from billions of dollars, and they're not going to get away with not paying,” said the mayor.
The companies are pointing to a tentative agreement reached between Silverstein and the Port Authority in April divvying up ownership of the site's
planned buildings, including the Freedom Tower, which would go to the Port Authority.
The insurers say since Silverstein would no longer own all the buildings at the site, they might no longer be responsible for paying the claims he was
due as owner.
There have been other costs, too:
Silverstein Properties and the Port Authority continue to be guided by a lease each signed six weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The lease
stipulates that should the complex be destroyed, Silverstein must continue to pay the $120 million a year rent in order to maintain the right to
rebuild. Mr. Silverstein has tried to persuade the Port Authority that his closely held company is capable of rebuilding while meeting its massive
rent payments. The rent is currently being paid from insurance proceeds, draining the amount available for rebuilding.
$120 million dollars a year? So in the three years between the attacks and that article being written, Silverstein has paid out over $360 million on
rent alone (and a three-year court battle implies substantial legal fees, too).
That was a 2004 article, but problems continued. Here’s part of a Time article from May 2006:
The original World Trade Center, completed in 1973, suffered under a similar real estate climate. "The argument back then was that downtown was
losing to midtown," says Susan Fainstein, professor of urban planning at Columbia University. "They thought by building this impressive complex, it
would make downtown a competitor. But so much space came up at once, and there just wasn't the demand to fill it." New York State even moved some
offices there to help keep the rent rolls filled. The latest plans for ground zero call for the same 10 million sq. ft. of office space as the
original World Trade Center, but the site's potential as a repeat target may repel business. "People don't want to work in a building with a
bull's-eye on it," says Fainstein. "It doesn't matter if it's built like Fort Knox."
Even if he does find the tenants, Silverstein's methodical plan for development--one building at a time--has maddened his critics, convincing them
that he simply does not have the cash to build out the site. The April agreement gives him about 60% of the $3.3 billion in public funding made
available from Liberty Bonds to finish the site. He also has a $4.6 billion insurance settlement--it was ruled that the towers were hit by two
separate attacks--although that is under appeal.
There may be issues getting tenants, then, but at least he has 60% of the liberty bonds, taking him up to around $6.6 billion. Is that the profit?
This article doesn’t seem to think it’s a windfall, and others agree. Here’s a March 2006 analysis from the New York Post, for instance (this is
a lengthy excerpt but we’ve snipped more, so it’s best if you follow the link and read the whole thing):
Nearly $3.4 billion in these bonds remains, with the mayor and the governor each controlling half...
The mayor has put Silverstein in an impossible position. Legally, the developer has the right to rebuild. But financially, he needs the Liberty Bonds
to do so...
It will cost $4.3 billion for Silverstein to rebuild the World Trade Center and maintain his lease once insurance is exhausted. Like any developer,
Silverstein (and his potential lenders) must determine if the project is worth more than its cost: Over the remainder of the lease, will the WTC bring
in enough in rents to repay this $4.3 billion investment and earn a profit?
Part of the answer depends on future commercial rents Downtown. Bloomberg says he believes rents won't rise above pre-9/11 levels (after inflation),
while Silverstein thinks they'll rise to today's Midtown levels.
Either way, Silverstein's looking at earning $300 million to $400 million (in today's dollars) a year, after operating costs and taxes (but before
interest costs), for about 80 years - that is, from the time he gets all five towers built to the time the lease ends.
Here is where Bloomberg's intransigence matters. If New York actually uses its 9/11 rebuilding money at Ground Zero, and Silverstein gets all the
Liberty Bonds (with their low interest rate of about 6.5 percent), his future income from the towers would be worth $5.7 billion to $7.5 billion in
today's dollars. At those values, the project is economical even if rents never rise to Midtown levels. Lenders would invest in the project, so it
wouldn't run out of money, as Bloomberg claims it will.
But if Silverstein wins only half of the Liberty Bonds, the finances become murky. The deal wouldn't be economical unless rents rose quickly, so it
might fall short of lenders.
With no Liberty Bonds, the WTC project is not economical unless rents rise stratospherically, becau