Highest Eatery May Top Freedom Tower
By PETER KIEFER
January 29, 2008
The Freedom Tower will be topped by New York City's highest restaurant, a 34,000-square-foot space on the 100th and 101st floors that the Port Authority, which owns the tower, yesterday offered up to entice interest among potential operators.
The Port Authority's request for expression of interest for a restaurant and banquet space high in One World Trade Center is already eliciting commentary from New York's top restaurateurs and real estate analysts.
A co-owner of Nobu, Drew Nieporent, said the attacks of September 11, 2001, had a lasting effect on the mentality of diners. About 150 restaurant employees and guests at Windows on the World were killed in the attack.
"I'm not advocating that it's the best idea, I think it has to sink in a little," he said. Of the terrorist enemy, he said: "You know, these people could do just about anything, they can be very creative and it doesn't just have to be something in a tall building. If they want to wreak havoc, a public space is better where there's a large congregation of people."
The Port Authority says it is hoping to create "one of the best-located and most well known dining establishments in the world," and the available space would appear, at least on paper, to have all the desired trappings sought by an ambitious restaurant or event space owner. There is the 360-degree view of New York City and the Hudson and East rivers on two separate floors, one of which is located adjacent to the public observation deck.
There are five express elevators and the state of the art facilities that the Freedom Tower will offer when completed. Lower Manhattan has gone through a recent economic boom, with the average salary of residents there at almost twice the median of the typical New York City resident.
But the proposition of renting such a unique space at such an extreme height on soil with such a history could pose a number of challenges.
"Every floor you go above sidewalk level makes it more difficult," the owner of the River Café, Michael "Buzzy" O'Keeffe, said. "If you had only one floor like that — in a city like New York — it would probably be a big tourist attraction. But there are many floors like that here. There are many big tall buildings with tall views," he said, adding that "it was not easy to make Windows on the World work."
The new space is actually several floors lower than Windows on the World, which occupied the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. That restaurant, while not particularly well respected among food critics — at least by New York dining standards — was nevertheless one of the world's highest-grossing restaurants. According to a 2001 article in The New York Times the restaurant was making $24 million a year in the late1980s.
There have been numerous delays in the reconstruction plans of ground zero, so another problem posed is timing. According to the request for expressions of interest, the premises would not be delivered to any prospective tenant before the summer of 2012, and an opening could not occur before 2013 at the earliest.
"Our surveys show that the diners in New York change their attitudes, their cuisines change, trends in restaurants and where they're located change yearly. So to predict what's going to be good location seven to ten years from now is difficult to say," a spokesman for the Zagat survey, Michael Mahle, said.
An executive vice president at Newmark Knight Frank, Jeffrey Roseman, said the space would be "for a special sort of operator."
"It is an event restaurant space more than anything else," he said. "These are the kind of places you take your grandma on her birthday. I mean, how many times did you go to Window on the World? For special anniversaries and parties."
Mr. Roseman and Mr. O'Keeffe both said they did not see September 11 and the emotions that come with it as a threat to a restaurant in the space.
"The hole has so much press, so the building will have so much press, and it would certainly probably be the most publicized building on earth," Mr. O'Keeffe said.
"So I guess then it will lend itself to being visited by an untold number of people. So even though the other conditions might hold for a normal building, this one, because of all the press it is likely to get, will probably be a big tourist place."