Recovering and Rebuilding
The Port Authority’s World Trade Department and engineering staff immediately began working to recover from the attack. Power was quickly restored to integral locations, and the lights in the towers were turned on that evening to symbolize a psychological victory. Port Authority management helped to arrange the short-term relocation of tenants, and provided referrals for psychological services. To commemorate the victims of the attack, a brass plaque bearing their names was installed near the location of the bomb on the B-2 level of the North Tower. A memorial fountain was later dedicated on the plaza between the towers. Arrayed around the fountain were the names of the six victims:
John DiGiovanni, Robert Kirkpatrick, Stephen Knapp, William Macko, Wilfredo Mercado, Monica Rodriguez Smith and unborn child
The memorial was inscribed in English and Spanish, the native language of two of those killed, and underscored the broad impacts of terrorism: “this horrible act of violence killed innocent people, injured thousands, and made victims of us all.” Both memorials were destroyed in the attacks of September 11, 2001; a small piece of the fountain was recovered and rededicated on February 26, 2005, the 12-year anniversary of the bombing.
Port Authority staff worked around the clock to enable a re-opening of the complex in March. New York Governor Mario Cuomo and his staff were the first to return on March 18. By this time, the debris removal and cleaning of approximately 10 million square feet of office space were nearly complete; the entire rebuilding effort continued for approximately 20 months.
The Port Authority spent hundreds of millions of dollars on structural, technological and operational enhancements to egress, notification capabilities, command centers and life safety plans and staffing. Security-wise, the Port Authority essentially “closed” the WTC complex to the public, requiring visitors to be screened before being issued temporary badges. It installed a “repeater” system to enhance high-rise communications for the FDNY, and formalized its New York City code compliance policy.
While the WTC community embarked on a “new normal,” many people around the country tended to view the attack as a New York event, and some New Yorkers tended to view it as a WTC event, unrelated to them. Additionally, the skilled investigation and response to the attack, which led to the quick arrests and trials of the terrorists, gave the country an optimistic sense of preparedness and security.
Occupancy rates in the downtown area were generally low after the 1993 bombing, and some new tenants were wary of renting space on high floors in the WTC, which had previously been the most desirable zone. Nonetheless, all but one major tenant, which had consolidated its headquarters at the nearby World Financial Center, returned to the WTC. Naturally, it was difficult for tenants to return to the site of the attack, but many regarded their return to the towers as a cause for celebration, a victory. While some continued to feel uneasy, waiting for the next attack to occur, many felt safer seeing what the towers had been able to withstand. They felt that the fortification of the complex through rigorous new safety and security measures made it impenetrable.
Revitalization in the Years that Followed
By the end of the decade, the WTC had achieved a renaissance. A combination of the modernization of the complex and a tenant-friendlier approach led to an occupancy rate of over 95 percent. The complex was, once again, filled with high-powered companies, including investment banks, accounting and law firms, and traders, making it active day and night. Quality-of-life updates also enlivened the environment. Windows on the World and the Vista Hotel were significantly renovated; the hotel was sold to Marriott. The newly-privatized Observation Deck added new attractions, including a simulated helicopter ride around New York City. The mall replaced old-fashioned stores and banks with upscale retail chains and a number of new restaurants, and the Port Authority sponsored concerts on the plaza. A variety of services and amenities were available at the WTC, including meeting & exhibit space, education & training services, medical & dental offices, a children’s daycare center, a fitness center at the hotel, airline counters, postal & shipping counters, full-service banks and ATMs, a TKTS booth, a Greenmarket setup outdoors. The majority of tenants felt privileged to work at the WTC, and recall their days there with great fondness.
The WTC’s burgeoning environment also made it a focal point for the downtown area. The mall became a hangout for local school kids, as well as the primary shopping center and hub of services for the downtown area. Residential life downtown increased, which caused the area to flourish further. By 2000, the WTC had not only revitalized itself in the aftermath of a major attack, but had fostered the revitalization of the downtown area, the purpose for which it was conceived and built half a century earlier.