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For Other World Trade Centers After 9/11, A Shared Name Was A Burden And A Benefit

National

When the planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, the World Trade Center name was catapulted into global notoriety.

At the time, the South Central Pennsylvania International Network was waiting on application approval for its new brand: the World Trade Center Harrisburg. After the attacks, Executive Director Tina Weyant said plans to partner with a developer to build an office tower adorned with the brand sputtered.

“One guy actually told me, he was like, 'What do you expect me to do, build another target?'” Weyant said.

The lack of interest forced Weyant’s group to place hopes for new office space on the back burner for 14 years. The group eventually partnered with developer John Moran Jr. to rebrand 1000 North Cameron St. as the World Trade Center Harrisburg, with the association moving into a 3K SF office in December 2016.

Licensed to economic development organizations around the world, there had always been significant business value attached to being a designated World Trade Center. But in the years after the deadliest attacks on U.S. soil happened at a World Trade Center, the name was saddled with grief and fear.

Two decades later, the weight of those events has lifted and the luster of being a World Trade Center has returned. Licensed World Trade Centers have multiplied in the U.S. and abroad, once again anchoring signature real estate projects designed to showcase a region’s economic development clout.

“It's more than just [a] brand. It's like this whole concept of globally working together and moving forward,” Weyant said.

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The twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

Buildings that have adopted the World Trade Center brand in their respective cities have historically been visible, high-value office assets even prior to a World Trade Center moving in, while others have been purpose-built and designed to impress.

A 2012 report from Chicago-based Johnson Consulting, commissioned by the World Trade Center Association found that the World Trade Center Istanbul had an office rent premium of 30.8%. The World Trade Center Changzhou, World Trade Center Malmo and World Trade Center Panama had office rent premiums of 25%, 8% and 5.4%, respectively.

Johnson Consulting President and CEO Charlie Johnson, who is also the managing director of World Trade Center Chicago, said the World Trade Center name automatically lends a building prestige.

“If you look at the tenant base in all the World Trade Centers around the country, around the world, you'll find the KPMGs, the engineering companies, the law firms,” Johnson said. “So by definition, they attract high-quality Rolodex tenants around the world. That's the proof in the pudding, in my opinion.”

Though two planes flew directly into New York’s World Trade Center, giving the brand worldwide notoriety, World Trade Center leaders have maintained over the years that the attacks were never targeting the World Trade Center itself.

“Terrorists don't look for trade centers," then-WTCA President Guy Tozzoli told The Baltimore Sun in 2002. "They were looking for two monster towers that represented the United States and our power."

Tozzoli, who died in 2013, was a key figure in the formation of the association in 1970 and the construction of New York City’s twin towers. The association, which aims to foster global trade, doesn’t own real estate, but leases the name to member associations.

He was also a staunch defender of the World Trade Center brand post-9/11, assuring his member organizations in a de facto media tour that the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2004 said other World Trade Centers were never targeted. Tozzoli’s sentiment was shared by other key members like John Drew, a chairman at the organization and the developer behind Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center.

”At first it made us stop and think, but later, we looked at it with less emotion, we realized that not every World Trade Center is a target,” Drew told The Boston Globe in 2004. “The towers in New York were icons.”

The fear of terrorist attacks in high-rise office towers wasn’t limited to World Trade Center buildings. SunTrust Plaza, one of the tallest towers in Atlanta, ramped up security in the wake of 9/11, but Brian Hogg, a now-retired Portman Holdings executive who oversaw leasing of the building at the time, said that had little to do with the fact that it housed the World Trade Center Atlanta office.

Building management installed trees and concrete bollards on one side of the skyscraper, which held the headquarters to SunTrust Bank and several law firms — while large concrete barriers were placed in front of other doors to the building, Hogg said. Fencing was placed in the parking garage, and retractable bollards were installed to restrict access to the loading dock and service area. Security officers also began using mirrors to check the undercarriage of vehicles for explosives.

Hogg said despite those measures, tenants on higher floors of the building were anxious after the attacks.

“If something showed up that they were a little nervous about, they'd call down and say, 'Well, I got a helicopter out here flying around the 56th floor. Do you know anything about it?'” Hogg said.

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The SunTrust Plaza building in Atlanta, which housed the World Trade Center Atlanta from 1995 to 2013.

Tensions ran high post-9/11 at Baltimore’s World Trade Center, a 31-story waterfront skyscraper and one of the city’s most visible office towers. Police with submachine guns patrolled the tower, and the building received two separate unsubstantiated bomb threats in the days after 9/11, the Baltimore Sun reported.

“It gives you the sort of feeling this could be the next target,” Robert Treadway, a loan officer working at the Baltimore World Trade Center, told the paper in 2001. “It's the only building getting this sort of treatment."

A security study by the World Trade Center Institute confirmed his suspicions — only the Baltimore World Trade Center took such drastic security measures post-9/11. Then-Gov. Martin O’Malley pushed a plan to rename the tower and relocate the 150-year-old USS Constellation as a buffer in case of an attack.

“What sense does it make to essentially cower and give in to the threat of terrorism by removing the designation of the building?” then-Maryland Secretary of Transportation John Porcari told the Sun in 2002. None of the security measures were completed. The state-owned building was quietly rebranded in 2019 to its address, 401 East Pratt.

Baltimore wasn’t the only city that mulled dropping the World Trade Center name. At least 15 buildings ended up dropping the brand within three years of the attacks, the Boston Globe reported in 2004.

But as time passed, the appeal of the World Trade Center name gradually returned. 

The Pinnacle Group was developing a 152-acre, open-air, mixed-use project dubbed Pinnacle Hills Promenade in Rogers, Arkansas, in 2007 when it offered a 6K SF office to the World Trade Center Arkansas. The developer, now Hunt Ventures, thought the trade organization would bring additional prestige to the project, former World Trade Center Arkansas President and CEO Dan Hendrix told Bisnow.

The nascent group received financial assistance from the state and the city of Rogers to pay for membership to the WTCA but little else, Hendrix said. Over the past 14 years, those offices have brought ambassadors, consul generals, trade ministers and even country leaders to northwest Arkansas. 

“We started a whole dynamic and paradigm shift in that real estate market up there,” Hendrix said. 

Hendrix said the events of 9/11 placed a strain on World Trade Centers around the U.S., and many of them experienced a slowdown in their trade missions. But because World Trade Center Arkansas was founded six years after the attacks, it didn’t carry the same baggage.

“I think if it would have been 2002 or 2003, it probably would have been much more difficult to establish what we did,” Hendrix said.

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A rendering of the 41-acre Fox Park redevelopment in Denver, which will include the new headquarters of World Trade Center Denver.

World Trade Center Denver spent nearly three decades based in the twin tower office complex at 1625 Broadway and 1675 Broadway in downtown Denver. Brookfield Properties, the original developer, long used the name to market the property, World Trade Center Denver President and CEO Karen Gerwitz said.

“The Brookfield developer who brought us in there said that, when he named it World Trade Center, they were operating at 98% occupied … they were able to charge higher [rents],” Gerwitz said. “And he said, 'The biggest mistake I made was not making you guys a 50-year lease.’” 

Multiple changes in building ownership over the years eventually prompted WTC Denver to seek a partnership with a new developer, she said. The organization left the complex for what was intended to be temporary office space in 2015, taking the World Trade Center brand with it.

After some delays and a change in developer, the trade organization is now slated to anchor the 41-acre Fox Park redevelopment, a partnership between Indianapolis-based Pure Development and Mexico City-based Interland.

That project will include a 600K SF mixed-use complex named for World Trade Center Denver, as well as a 5K SF office for the trade organization. Gerwitz said that her group will also help recruit tenants and activate the space by creating programming and events. 

“I think we will change the trajectory of how the World Trade Center is seen with this new campus,” Gerwitz added.

While more than a dozen World Trade Centers dropped their name in the years immediately following 9/11, the WTCA now has 314 member locations in nearly 100 countries, according to the organization. Many of the newer trade centers have emerged in Asia and South America.

Gerwitz said that aside from Coca-Cola, the World Trade Center brand is arguably the most famous brand in the world — but it’s still widely misunderstood.

“I think it's because of the 9/11 attacks. People think of it only in New York,” Gerwitz said. “But for those of us that are in it, every day, working in trade, our whole mission is to connect our members here locally to the members of the other World Trade Centers around the world, and to [then] connect them to opportunities.”

CORRECTION, SEPT. 8, 3:30 P.M CT: The story has been updated to reflect the current number of WTCA member locations.