September 8, 2011

10 YEARS LATER | Drew Warshaw ’03 Works To Rebuild WTC Site

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For the last three years, Drew Warshaw ’03, chief of staff for the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has undertaken the vital task of redeveloping and redesigning the World Trade Center, helping to mitigate the intensity of feelings raised by the decade-old project, the first portions of which are now nearing completion.

“One of the things we did when we got here was to strip away as much of the emotions, politics and complexities that weighed on the site and turn it into purely a construction project, where decisions could reflect the reality on the ground,” Warshaw said. “If we could build it effectively, it could then become what any New Yorker or anyone wants it to be. But first we had to just build it.”

After growing up in New York City, Warshaw began his time at Cornell in 1999 as a student in the College of Arts and Sciences studying history and political science. At the time of the attacks, Warshaw was just beginning his junior year.

“Like most people, I watched it on television,” Warshaw said of that day. “I spent a lot of time trying to get in touch with my friends and family in New York, which was difficult at first. Eventually, though, everyone was accounted for.”

Upon graduation in 2003, Warshaw spent two years in Washington, D.C., before going to work for New York Governor Elliot Spitzer. When Spitzer resigned in the wake of a major prostitution scandal in early 2008, Warshaw went to work for the Port Authority as the Chief of Staff for the Executive Director, Chris Ward.

In addition to its role in the New York Metropolitan transportation system, the Port Authority owns a number of real estate ventures in and around the city, including the World Trade Center site. In his position in the Executive Director’s office, the complexities of this project became one of his central focuses.

“We are trying to build on a 16 acre site that sits on top of a mass transit corridor used by 150,000 people a day.” Warshaw said. “Add to this challenge the fact that there are 19 public agencies, two private developers, 101 different contractors and sub-contractors and 33 different designers, architects and consulting firms all in charge of one element of the project or another, and you have a construction challenge that is as complex as any in the world.”

In the three years since Warshaw began at the Port Authority, the agency has taken a number of steps to help limit emotional ties to the project, like removing the sentimental “Freedom Tower” moniker from the 1,776 foot tall office development at One World Trade Center.

Additionally, a redesign of the proposed transportation center helped enable the completion and opening of the National September 11th Memorial on the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

In spite of the setbacks of the bureaucratic system, Warshaw has faith in the power of government.

“We live in an increasingly toxic political world. If you know that going in, there is a ton we can do.” Warshaw said, “Government can get a lot done if focused in the right direction.”

Original Author: Evan Preminger