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After 17 Years, Memories Of 9/11 Still Fresh For Atlanta's CRE Industry

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On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Niles Bolton Associates Director of Interior Design Stephanie Kirkpatrick and her husband, Stan Everett, were in the studio audience of "Good Morning America" in Times Square.

This was the first trip Kirkpatrick and Everett had managed since the birth of their son just nine months earlier, and being in the audience of one of her favorite news programs was her dream come true.

It quickly turned into a confused, hazy nightmare when, at 8:45 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center loaded with passengers and 20,000 gallons of jet fuel.

After 17 Years, Memories Of 9/11 Still Fresh For Atlanta's CRE Industry
The North and South Towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, after terrorists flew two planes into the towers

The cast and the studio audience were stunned, but not quite sure what exactly hit the tower. Everett, an engineer, had a pretty solid idea what it was.

“When the first plane hit, [Everett] was standing next to the cameraman. Stan said that was a 767," Kirkpatrick said. "The cameraman said, 'Are you sure?'"

Almost immediately after, "Good Morning America" reported that an unconfirmed report stated a passenger plane is what hit the tower.

“So my husband became the [source for] the unconfirmed report,” she said.

Eighteen minutes later, the second plane hit the South Tower, and pandemonium broke loose on the set.

“There were people running down the hall screaming, 'Where the [expletive] is Peter Jennings?” Kirpatrick recalled.

The studio quickly shut down, the audience ushered out into Times Square, perplexed and horrified with the rest of the city — and much of the world — at what was transpiring in those early hours of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Seventeen years have passed since that day.

For many, it was supposed to be just another workday. But that moment changed everything. The tragedy that claimed the lives of 2,996 people in New York, Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania has shaped nearly every facet of American politics, policy and culture since then, for better or for worse.

To most Americans, 9/11 was witnessed, not as Kirkpatrick and her husband experienced it, in real time on the streets of New York City, but on television screens and radio broadcasts and on the internet. On the anniversary of this seminal event, Bisnow asked a few people in the industry to share their memories of that day, which is still fresh in the minds of everyone who lived through it.

Larry Callahan Pattillo Industrial real estate
Pattillo Industrial Real Estate CEO Larry Callahan

“My wife called me from home and told me to turn on the television at work. I turned it on just in time to see the second plane fly into the World Trade Center,” Pattillo Industrial Real Estate CEO Larry Callahan said. “My co-workers and I stood in silence, shock and anger. We had never considered that someone would hate us so much that they would kill themselves to kill more of us. We were sad for the senseless loss of life, angry at the unknown perpetrators and sure that this would be a severe blow to our sense of security and the confidence that drives an economy.”

The Shumacher Group founder Harold Shumacher was in a hotel bar for a morning breakfast meeting with other retail brokers when CNN showed the first images of the World Trade Center.

“The initial thought was a private pilot who made an error,” Shumacher said. “Minutes later, when the second plane hit, it became apparent there was more going on and we all quickly departed. I remember stopping at the Wolf Camera [store] on 14th Street to pick something up before heading home where we remained transfixed to the TV.”

Television and the internet became the go-to medium on that day for many. Office conference rooms and break rooms became gathering points for workers who would watch, sometimes in stunned silence, as the news unfolded through the day. Transwestern Director of Research Keith Pierce — who at the time worked for Atlanta-based Dorey Research — heard those first reports on his desk radio, but thought it at the time to be an accident.

“A few minutes later, I heard shouting from down the hall, and a group was gathering around a TV in one of the conference rooms, watching a plane head for the second tower,” Pierce said. “From then on, work pretty much stopped and everyone gathered around the TV or huddled in the hallway, talking about what was happening.”

Ken Ashley
Cushman & Wakefield Executive Director Ken Ashley

At the same time, Cushman & Wakefield Executive Director Ken Ashley was working at One Atlantic Center, one of Atlanta's tallest skyscrapers. Ashley said he heard murmurs of a plane hitting the Twin Towers on the way up the elevator, but the details were unclear and confusing. When he got to his office, he immediately fired up his web browser to CNN.com.

“And it wouldn't load,” Ashley said. "That's when I began to realize that there was something bigger than just your average everyday problem."

The staff gathered in the break room where TVs were broadcasting cable news.

“I remember the recoil and horror of everyone in the break room. And then we immediately began to think about our own safety,” he said.

By the time the third plane slammed into the Pentagon, Ashley said Cushman & Wakefield ordered its employees to leave and go home.

Not everyone was in an office when the attacks occurred.

Longs Peak Colorado
JLL Vice President Paul Hanna along with Managing Director John Fetz and Stan Johnson Co. Executive Director Stan Gastineau hiking Longs Peak in Colorado the morning of Sept. 11, 2001

Selig Enterprises Senior Vice President Cathy Selig was in Paris with her husband on the day of the attack, glued to the television in her hotel room. JLL Vice President Paul Hanna was on a hike of Longs Peak, a 14,000-foot-tall mountain in Estes Park, Colorado, when news came to his camp of the attack.

Newmark Knight Frank Executive Managing Director Kay Davis had just arrived in Cincinnati for a business meeting with another colleague, and was forced to find a rental car to drive back to Atlanta after all flights over the continental U.S. were grounded.

Lenox Communications founder Manda Hunt was in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, for a vacation about to go out for the night when she received an email about the attack. She spent the rest of the night making calls to her mom in New York City to check on the whereabouts of her sister, who was eventually confirmed safe. But Hunt was not to leave Vietnam any time soon after.

“We received a notice from the State Department in the morning basically telling us to sit tight because we weren’t going anywhere anytime soon,” she said.

No matter where people were, the impact of that day remains vivid in their memories, a reminder of the importance of family and friends.

“I don't think I really appreciated when it was happening the huge impact it would have not only in our economy, what a big inflection point it would be in our history," Ashley said. "It's hard to recognize history when it's being made sometimes."

"[It's] hard to believe it has been 17 years. It’s still so raw," Davis said. "How could the proud, strong USA possibly have been so vulnerable and exposed? To think we trained those guys to take our own planes and turn them into weapons of mass destruction on us is unbelievable. We were so naïve."    

For a few, thoughts on the day of the attack turned to their own children and the precious innocence that would soon be threatened.

“I went home and held my wife for a long time, and then we debated picking up our kids early from preschool, just to have them near and safe with us. We finally decided that they were safe where they were, and that our need to have them close was not as important as them having a normal day," Pierce said.

"We knew things would be different for them soon enough. That is not something you want to have to explain to a 4-year-old."

Ashley's son Jonathan, now 22, was celebrating his fifth birthday Sept. 11. For Ashley and his wife, the struggle was to keep the occasion happy for a toddler despite the national tragedy.

“It was years before we told him what happened that day. I went home that night with tears in my eyes. But they were tears for the loss of the people in Manhattan, and tears of joy to see my son celebrate his fifth birthday,” he said. “Instead of focusing on tragedy and loss, we focus on the celebration of his birth.

“These days I talk with my kids about that day and the weeks afterward, and I marvel that they do not remember a time before 9/11,” Pierce said. “They don’t remember when you could go to the gate to greet your loved ones at the airport, or keep your shoes on, and they don’t remember a time when their country was not at war.”