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Developer Plans Broadcast Spire for 1 WTC in New York

Durst anticipates FM, TV antenna installation atop new skyscraper

NEW YORK — The Durst Organization plans to build a broadcast tower at the new One World Trade Center building in lower Manhattan. People familiar with the developments expect the move to affect the transmission plans of some FM radio operators here. Unknown is how dramatically the new platform would change the city’s rooftop leasing landscape.

The development firm controls One World Trade Center in a partnership with The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Durst plans to add an installation for FM radio and television antennas in the building’s 408-foot spire, which will ultimately bring the new building’s height to 1,776 feet, making it the tallest building in North America.

An architect’s rendering of the finished building.Credit: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill By May, the new skyscraper was the city’s tallest building, surpassing 1,271 feet, New York newspapers quoted Port Authority officials as saying.

Yet to be determined is whether any of the city’s FM broadcasters will leave their current primary sites at Empire State Building for new rooftop digs or if they will treat the 1 WTC spire primarily as a backup site.

Durst expects its new broadcast center at 1 WTC to generate more than $10 million in rents and fees from broadcasters annually. Upfront capital costs to build the antenna are projected to be approximately $7.4 million, according to the developers. Projected total cost for the new building is now estimated at $3.9 billion, according to the NY Daily News.

Durst also operates rooftop broadcast facilities atop 4 Times Square in midtown Manhattan. The development firm is promoting the 1 WTC antenna as the city’s premium broadcast antenna platform. It plans to market both its locations to broadcasters with 1 WTC serving as a primary site with redundant power and 4 Times Square as backup, Durst stated in a press release.

A spokesman for Durst declined to say whether an engineering study has been ordered or completed. As of May, it was not clear whether Durst had begun contacting radio or television broadcasters about the new broadcast facility.

Work on the skyscraper, sometimes referred to as the Freedom Tower, began in 2006 and now is expected to be completed by late 2013 or early 2014. Once finished, 1 WTC will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere by pinnacle height, and the third-tallest building in the world, according to Durst.

The Empire State Building, 1,250 feet tall with a 204-foot antenna, is home to 19 FM stations — 14 on the master FM antenna — and most of the city’s digital television transmitters. Many radio and television broadcasters migrated to Empire after the collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The former WTC’s North Tower featured a 360-foot broadcast mast.

A report in the Wall Street Journal said the Empire State Building generated $16.1 million in rent from broadcasters in 2010, according to securities filings with the SEC. Malkin Holdings, owner of the Empire State Building, did not respond to messages left by Radio World for this story.

Jim Stagnitto, director of engineering for New York Public Radio, said he believes broadcasters transmitting signals from Empire will take a wait-and-see stance on 1 WTC.

“For example, I have not yet seen any engineering studies or financial proposals to present to my managers. Both would have to be compelling before a move downtown would be considered,” said Stagnitto. He also serves on the executive committee of the FM Master Antenna Group at Empire.

He pointed to possible short-spacing issues for some broadcasters as a negative for the new rooftop facility at 1 WTC.

The Durst Organization plans to add an installation for FM radio and television antennas in the building’s 408-foot spire. Credit: Tom Ray, WOR Mark Olkowski, a veteran New York broadcast engineer and former chair of the FM Master Antenna Group at Empire, said, “For broadcasters to have all of their eggs in one basket at Empire is not necessarily a good thing, especially considering what happened 11 years ago. However, I don’t think anyone is all that excited about moving.”

“The allocation is so tight that it is very difficult to move around. So you have spacing issues. The expense of moving is another consideration,” said Olkowski.

He estimated that to move a single FM transmission facility could cost $1 million per station or more. Then there are the buy-in fees and rent that would be charged by Durst, making it “a very expensive decision.”

The last buy-in to the Master FM Antenna Group at the Empire State Building was $660,000, according to Olkowski. “So when you add up all of the hardware and buy-in, you could be easily at $2 million per station or more.”

Olkowski has worked in the market since 1979, most recently as director of broadcast operations and engineering for CBS Radio. He speculated that 1 WTC could interest broadcasters as a backup site. “Empire right now is the better site because of the allocations, and it is centrally located in the market,” said Olkowski.

The Empire State Building’s rooftop facilities include nearly every radio and television broadcaster in the city. It’s long been rumored that the master FM antenna tower on Empire eventually will need to be re-built. Olkowski said he’s aware of no imminent plans to do so. The Empire State Building also has what is referred to as the “mini-master” antenna, which replaced three separate panel antennas in 1996. It is home to WQHT(FM), WCBS(FM) and WPLJ(FM).

“Empire has been the only player in town for over a decade. I believe competition is a good thing. The new tower will give broadcasters more options. That’s always good,” Olkowski said. He reported that Clear Channel and CBS currently are rebuilding some of their facilities at Empire.

A spat between the owners and the developer vs. the architect has raised the question of whether the building when finished really would be the tallest building in North America.

The architect, Skidmore Owings & Merrill, originally planned to enclose the antenna with an ornamental shell. The owners and developer intend to drop the shell to save $20 million, the Wall Street Journal reported recently.

When calculating building height, architectural spires are included; antennas are not. The owners say the antenna in this case is a spire; the city, which is the final judge in this case, had not ruled on the issue in May, the paper reported.