Beijing Company Agrees to Move into Freedom Tower

June 3, 2008 7:40:46 AM PDT
A Beijing real estate company has signed a tentative agreement to move into the Freedom Tower, which would make it the first corporate tenant in the signature skyscraper planned at the World Trade Center site, the site's owner said Monday. Beijing Vantone Real Estate Co. agreed to preliminary terms to open a Chinese business center on five floors of the 1,776-foot tower, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced.

State government agencies have agreed to lease half of the space in the skyscraper and a broker was hired last fall to lure businesses to the tower, scheduled to open in 2012. But corporations haven't jumped at the chance to move there; the tower had been seen as a possible terrorist target, and some businesses were uncertain about rebuilding progress at the site.

Port Authority leaders saw the agreement as a starting point. "This interest from Vantone will help us build excitement as we aggressively market this building to other prospective public- and private-sector tenants," said Chris Ward, the agency's executive director.

Xue Ya, director of the China Center Project, said Monday the tower was a "high-quality building" and said the company saw it as a world business center. "The World Trade Center is the place for international business," she said.

City, state and business leaders have wooed Beijing Vantone for three years, first approaching the company during a 2005 trip to China. The company backed out of a similar preliminary agreement two years ago with trade center developer Larry Silverstein at his 52-story tower, Seven World Trade Center.

Monday's preliminary agreement would house the China Center - a business service center for Chinese companies seeking to open offices around the world - near the middle of the 102-story tower, a person familiar with the terms told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to not disrupt negotiations before they are finalized. The 22-year lease offers a starting rent of $80 per square-foot for 190,000 square feet, the person said.

Five office towers are planned to replace the trade center complex. The Port Authority and the state have signed onto space in two separate towers. Silverstein is negotiating with Merrill Lynch & Co. for space in a third tower.

Monday's agreement at the Freedom Tower would need approval of the agency's board this month, before a lease is finalized.