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NYC’s new arts center is a shining symbol of post-9/11 comeback

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If you lived in New York City on 9/11 like I did, you’ll never forget the feeling of those first painful weeks and months after the attacks. The sense of devastation, and the certainty that we would never be the same again. Many of us wondered if the city was on course to return to its nadir of the 1970s. There was a universal dread that, just maybe, the bad old days were back and this time we’d never recover.

Fast forward two decades, and lower Manhattan has been reborn — and it’s more vibrant than ever. The World Trade Center’s 16 acres have been revitalized. So has the rest of the community. At its heart is a Museum and a Memorial that has welcomed nearly 60 million visitors. In 2002, my friends Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal launched the Tribeca Festival to help the neighborhood get back on its feet — and now the population of lower Manhattan is more than double the size it was pre-9/11. Parks, schools and everyday life are thriving in a community that has been transformed into a more diverse and wonderfully livable place New Yorkers now want to be.

The destruction at Ground Zero was so severe that many longtime New Yorkers feared it would return the city to the lawlessness and economic turmoil of late-1970s.

Next year, we will add a final piece to this emerging hub: the Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC). It will be home to theater, dance, music, film and other possibilities yet to be imagined — opening its arms to a growing downtown community and visitors from across the globe.

From the beginning, City Hall wanted a venue that could bring new life and energy (and revenue) as downtown reinvented itself. A performing arts center fit squarely into that master plan.

Ronald Perelman with Halle Barry and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose vision (and commitment to culture) helped ensure that the Perelman Performing Arts Center was built.
Ronald Perelman with Halle Barry and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose vision (and commitment to culture) helped ensure that the Perelman Performing Arts Center was built.
Getty Images

I remember when two great New Yorkers — Mayor Mike Bloomberg and developer Larry Silverstein — first asked if I wanted to be involved in 2015. The idea intrigued me right away. People had already tried — and failed — in the ’70s to reinvigorate downtown with office space alone.

The vision was to use the arts to give a shot in the arm to what had historically been a 9-5 business district. And I was a big believer it could work. Music and the arts have an economic power as well as a healing power. Not only did I agree to move my company downtown, but I also threw my financial and emotional support behind building a brand-new performing arts center that a dynamic city needs and deserves. 

The area around Ground Zero has been reborn since the 9/11 terror attacks and now includes Santiago Calatrava's landmark Oculus transportation hub along with the One World Trade Center tower.
The area around Ground Zero has been reborn since the 9/11 terror attacks and now includes Santiago Calatrava’s landmark Oculus transportation hub along with the One World Trade Center tower.
Getty Images
One of the Perelman Center's three performance spaces, which features mobile walls that can be reconfigured to accommodate dance, opera, music and theater productions.
One of the Perelman Center’s three performance spaces, which features mobile walls that can be reconfigured to accommodate dance, opera, music and theater productions.
LUXIGON

Mike Bloomberg deserves a lot of credit for breaking the logjams, and for sticking with the project to this day, when others would have walked away. He had the vision to understand what so many failed to see — culture attracts capital, not the other way around, and can be a key tentpole in driving urban reinvigoration.

Mike has already put countless hours and energy into getting the PAC built and chairing our board. His determination is the reason we’re so close to the finish line now, with the center poised to open in fall 2023.

The walls of the PAC are crafted from 5,000 translucent marble tiles. Not only will it serve the millions of tourists who flock to Ground Zero, but lower Manhattan's booming population.
The walls of the PAC are crafted from 5,000 translucent marble tiles. Not only will it serve the millions of tourists who flock to Ground Zero, but lower Manhattan’s booming population.
LUXIGON

The PAC itself will be a beacon — not just as a physical cube of light but as a shining symbol of peace. The building’s exterior, covered with 5,000 marble tiles, is now complete and will glow from within. Inside, the PAC’s three theaters will be flexibly designed to allow for all kinds of possibilities. Imagine stand-up comedians entertaining audiences in one space, while opera singers and ballet dancers perform in the others. This is New York, after all, and like its home city, the PAC will play host to the whole human comedy — on some nights, all at once.

Flags being raised at Ground Zero just after the terror attacks destroyed the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. New lower Manhattan landmarks like the PAC salute New York City's unyielding resilience.
Flags being raised at Ground Zero just after the terror attacks destroyed the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. New lower Manhattan landmarks like the PAC salute New York City’s unyielding resilience.
AP

Twenty-one years ago today, people counted us out. We might have even believed the best days of New York were behind us. But rising out of tragedy and loss, the PAC will be the capstone on this living, breathing, brilliant new neighborhood of downtown Manhattan.

It also proves that our early dire predictions were all wrong. Out of the ashes, we came back stronger, more resilient, more hopeful than ever, and achieved the impossible.

Ronald O. Perelman is the chairman and chief executive officer of MacAndrews & Forbes and a member of the PAC’s board of directors.



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