Merrill Lynch Backs Out of Plans to Move HQ to WTC

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey confirmed today that Merrill Lynch has pulled out of plans to locate its headquarters at a new office tower to be constructed at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. “While communications continue, formal negotiations between the Port Authority, Silverstein Properties and Merrill Lynch have ended over economic terms,” a Port Authority spokesperson said in a prepared statement. “We are confident in the long-term viability of the office market at the site, and continue to make progress on construction of all of the projects.” A Merrill Lynch spokesperson told CPN today they are not commenting on the news. CPN had reported May 22 that the financial services firm had re-entered talks with the Port Authority, which owns the site, to possibly move its headquarters to the planned Tower 3. Merrill Lynch’s current headquarters is in the World Financial Center, across West Street from the WTC site. Despite a report released June 30 by the Port Authority noting that the rebuilding at Ground Zero would take longer and cost more than initially estimated, Larry Silverstein, president of WTC developer Silverstein Properties Inc., has said that his company’s projects–Towers 2, 3 and 4–are still expected to be completed by the end of 2012. Today, Janno Lieber, president of World Trade Center Properties, a Silverstein Properties affiliate, said they were moving ahead with plans for their towers. “Right now, the entire Silverstein Properties World Trade Center team is focused on working with government to resolve the design and construction issues identified by the Port Authority in its recent report to the Governor, as well as ongoing uncertainties about the Port Authority’s schedule to complete vital site infrastructure,” Lieber stated. “It is urgent that these issues be resolved in order to accelerate the rebuilding of the entire World Trade Center site.” Lieber added, “We wish Merrill Lynch great success and hope they decide to keep their headquarters in Lower Manhattan, their historic home, for many years.”Michael Cohen, chairman of GVA Williams, told CPN today that there wasn’t much difference between Merrill Lynch moving to the new World Trade Center tower or staying put at World Financial Center. “As long as they stay in Downtown, it’s good for Downtown,” Cohen said. Merrill Lynch leases more than 2 million square feet at 4 World Financial Center under a deal reportedly set to expire in 2013. “My guess is that Brookfield Properties, the owner of the World Financial Center, who are very smart people, will figure out a way to retain Merrill Lynch Downtown,” Cohen added. Cohen said he disagreed with much of the negative spin the Merrill Lynch story was generating since the New York Times’Charles Bagli first reported the news. “Downtown is more attractive than it’s ever been. It’s become a very 24/7 community. There’s a ton of infrastructure,” he said. He noted that with the economy slowing, many firms currently located in Midtown–where office rents are still over $100 per square foot–might take a hard look at leasing Downtown space. “Downtown will have to continue, and I’m sure this is Silverstein’s strategy, to make the case that this location is a viable competitor with Midtown,” Cohen said. “Comparable space Midtown is going to cost you three figures and Downtown it’s not.”Blog Comments