WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Steady progress is being made on the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. But the demolition of the former Deutsche Bank building, damaged on September 11, 2001, has been plagued by delays, scores of injuries, fatalities and even criminal indictments. Now, with hundreds of millions of dollars spent on its demolition, the removal of the building is near.
On September 11, when the World Trade Center's South Tower fell, it tore a 15-story gash into the 41-story Deutsche Bank headquarters at 130 Liberty Street. A whirlwind of toxic waste and human remains contaminated the building.
Demolition of the building was suspended in 2007 when a fire killed two fire fighters and injured more than a hundred. A prosecutor's report issued after the fire faulted contractors and government entities, including the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the agency that is responsible for the project.
John DeLibero of the LMDC says now, nine years after it was damaged, the take-down is almost done. "This is the deck of 130 Liberty Street standing on the fourth floor and you are watching the fifth floor beams being removed."
Crews are spread out on the top floor. It's like a lunar landscape with neat piles of concrete, gnarled steel and an open-air, 360 degree panorama of Lower Manhattan. Crews dismantle the building beam by beam. Showers of white sparks fly from acetylene torches as workers cut the structural steel. Workmen keep steady streams of water on the steel to keep the dust down and to extinguish renegade sparks.
Rick Livingston is the man keeping an eye on the project for the LMDC. "They have a fireguard with each burner, one down on the next floor and one guy that monitors every floor beneath," says Livingston.
During his career, Livingston has built it all. From a tank range in Kuwait, to apartments in Russia and an embassy in Angola. He says, on average, workers are able to demolish two floors each month. "There's like 350 pieces to 400 hundred pieces of steel on each floor," says Livingston.
Meanwhile, a Brokk Demo Robot, a jackhammer on steroids, pummels concrete into crumbled submission.
Down in the basement, water pours from upper floors and workers carefully demolish the remnants of a coin vault. Through a hole in the foundation, it is possible to see the part of the site that, incredibly, was never searched for 9/11 human remains and still needs to be scoured.
Mary Perillo lives right across the street from 130 Liberty and has a bird's eye view from eight stories up.
"Now it looks like they are taking it down better than they had been," she says.
For years, Perillo and other community activists along with Community Board 1 fought to improve conditions at the 130 Liberty site, which was plagued by violations and injuries. With just four floors to go, the noise and dust are still a problem but progress is visible.
"Now, different times of the year the sun drops in little cracks between the buildings that weren't there when Deutsche Bank was there," Perillo says. "And I can now see New Jersey. Look! Is that the Statue of Liberty?"
It was Perillo and other neighborhood residents who predicted at an LMDC hearing in 2005 that 130 Liberty site conditions and project management were both so poor lives were being put at risk.
"The major thing I see when i look out the window still is that two firefighters died needlessly after the community said time and time again the safety measures weren't anywhere near the correct standards," says Perillo.
Perillo says she wants something nearby to be named for firefighters Robert Beddia and Joe Graffagnino, who died in the 2007 fire. She also wants the U.S. Senate to pass the 9/11 Victims Compensation bill that has already passed the House of Representatives. It not only covers first responders, but also Lower Manhattan residents like Perillo.
"Yeah, the community has come together around this quite a bit. If we had blown out of here, and gone elsewhere and not comeback, who would have won? The bad guys," says Perillo.
Now the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation says they won't make their end of the year deadline for the demolition, but that they will be completely done early next year. Word of the delay has concerned officials at Port Authority, who need the site clear to get going on the construction of the Vehicle Security Checkpoint for the entire World Trade Center complex. The bi-state agency says the Deutsche Bank delays have set them back $100 million in work-arounds. It's been a costly undertaking right along. The LMDC bought the building for $90 million and has so far spent close to $300 million getting rid of it.