Rebuilding was the developer’s dream-and his right, according to his lawyers from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. But after the towers fell, New York city and state authorities seemed to have done everything possible to elbow him out of the way, even as Silverstein ponied up $100 million a year to rent a hole in the ground.
Now, at almost midnight, he was huddled in a conference room in the Park Avenue offices of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the quasi-governmental agency that had leased the Twin Towers to Silverstein in July 2001. Executives from his development company and his financial backers were there with him, as were Wachtell partners Martin Lipton and Robin Panovka. Silverstein ordered two cups of coffee. He was ready to stay up all night. “Let’s get this thing done,” he told the group.
Silverstein had missed his bedtime, but it was Port Authority and other government officials who were tired-of Silverstein, of his lawyers, and of what they would describe the next day as “bad faith” negotiating. When the Silverstein side returned to the table that night-either three or four hours late, depending on which side is telling the story-“everything that we thought we had settled was back on the table,” says Kenneth Ringler, Jr., the Port Authority’s executive director at the time. After several tense sidebar conversations, Ringler lost his cool.
He stormed into the conference room occupied by the Silverstein team. “It’s over,” he said. “Send us your fucking rent check.” Lipton followed Ringler out of the room, then returned a few moments later. “They’re enraged,” he said to the Silverstein team. “There’s nothing we can do tonight.”
The men filed out. No one said much on the elevator ride down to the street. It had been a bad night, and with no deal in place, tomorrow would be worse.
Representing Larry Silverstein in his quest to rebuild at Ground Zero has been the most demanding project that Wachtell, Lipton has ever undertaken. Since 2001, 71 lawyers have worked 100 hours or more on World Trade Center matters, including a handful of partners who worked nearly full-time on the project-this at a firm with fewer than 200 lawyers and just 77 partners.
It has also been Wachtell’s most emotionally taxing representation. “I am not given to exhortatory messages,” Herbert Wachtell wrote in a memo to his partners on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks. “This is an exception.” He continued: “Out of this horror, we have been given a tremendous privilege-to take a central role in bringing about the rebuilding of our city, to make it better than it was.”