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Photo: dbox

Marty Burger was in Miami when it happened.

The 1987 Wharton graduate was about to present before the Urban Land Institute. Before he could take the stage, the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

“We all just stood there holding hands,” he said. “Everything just stopped.”

PennDesign professor Gary Hack was on his way to his office at Penn when he got the call. It was his daughter, telling him of the Sept. 11 attacks.

He arrived in Meyerson B-1, where “I watched the towers collapse, along with most students and faculty of our school,” he said in an email. “I will never forget the horror.” The event was especially poignant for Hack, having worked in Two World Trade Center 10 years earlier.

At that moment neither man could imagine the role they would play in rebuilding the World Trade Center site.

Thirteen years later, Burger is now CEO of Silverstein Properties, the developer at the World Trade Center. Since joining the company in 2010, Burger has been responsible for financing and leasing four of the six skyscrapers in the World Trade Center complex.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work on these types of projects,” Burger said.

Although Silverstein Properties had the development rights to the entire center after the attacks, they gave the rights to develop two of the buildings to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. This included the right to World Trade Center Five as well as One World Trade Center, or as it’s more commonly known, the Freedom Tower.

Penn further played a role in developing the site before construction even began.

In 2002, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation hosted an international competition for entrants to submit plans for the World Trade Center’s redesign. Daniel Libeskind, then the Paul Philippe Cret Professor of Architecture, assembled a Penn design team. Their proposal, entitled “Memory Foundations,” won the competition.

The Penn team will be remembered for proposing the tower’s emblematic height of 1,776 feet, same as the year the Declaration of Independence was signed, also making it the tallest building in the western hemisphere.

“It needed something that distinguished itself from all the other towers of similar height,” Hack, who was on Libeskind’s proposal team, said. “Rebuilding it was viewed as a statement about the durability of the American spirit; identifying it with the date of American independence would make this memorable.”

Later in the design process, architect David Childs joined the project and altered some of the team’s plan due to security concerns. Childs is currently the project architect of One World Trade Center.

For Burger, the road to developing the World Trade Center began during his freshman year at Penn. While making his housing plans for his second year, Burger decided to buy and renovate a townhouse on Delancey Street where he could live and rent out to his friends. His first real estate deal sparked an interest that would turn into a life-long passion.

“Directly it was my Wharton experience that lead me into real estate,” he said.

One World Trade Center is expected to open sometime later this year. Silverstein Properties opened Seven World Trade Center in 2006 and Four World Trade Center in 2013. Two, Three and Five World Trade Center are still under construction. The National 9/11 Memorial Museum opened this past May.

“After much delay and debate, people are again working on the World Trade Center site, and the museum records the event for all times,” Hack wrote in his email. “We must not forget.”

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