If you lived in New York on 9/11 like me, you’ll never forget the feeling of those painful first weeks and months after the attacks. The feeling of devastation and the certainty that we would never be the same again. Many of us wondered if the city was about to return to its 1970s nadir. There was a universal fear that perhaps the bad old days were back and this time we weren’t never give up.
Fast forward two decades, and lower Manhattan is reborn – and it’s more vibrant than ever. The 16 acres of the World Trade Center have been revitalized. Just like the rest of the community. At its heart is a Museum and a Memorial which has hosted nearly 60 million visitors. In 2002, my friends Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal started 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 before 9/11. Parks, schools and everyday life thrive in a community that has been transformed into a more diverse and wonderfully livable place that New Yorkers now want to be.
Next year, we will add one last piece to this emerging hub: the Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC). It will be home to theatre, dance, music, film and other possibilities yet unimagined – opening its arms to a growing downtown community and visitors from around the world.
From the start, the town hall wanted a place that could bring new life and energy (and income) as the city center reinvents itself. A performing arts center fit perfectly into this master plan.
I remember when two great New Yorkers – Mayor Mike Bloomberg and developer Larry Silverstein – first asked me if I wanted to be involved in 2015. I was immediately intrigued by the idea. People had already tried – and failed – in the 70s to reinvigorate the city center with offices only.
The vision was to use the arts to boost what was historically a 9-5 business district. And I was a big believer that it could work. Music and the arts have economic power as well as healing power. Not only have I agreed to move my business downtown, but I have also lent my financial and emotional support to the building of a brand new performing arts center that a vibrant city needs and needs. deserved.
Mike Bloomberg deserves a lot of credit for breaking the blocks and sticking with the project to this day when others would walk away. He had a vision to understand what so many have failed to see – culture attracts capital, not the other way around, and can be a key pillar of urban revitalization.
Mike has already devoted countless hours and energy to building the CCP and chairing our Board of Directors. Her determination is why we are so close to the finish line now, with the center set to open in the fall of 2023.
The PAC itself will be a beacon – not just as a physical cube of light, but as a shining symbol of peace. The exterior of the building, covered with 5,000 marble tiles, is now complete and will shine from within. Inside, the PAC’s three theaters will be flexibly designed to allow for all sorts 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 his hometown, PAC will host all the human comedy – some nights, all at once.
Twenty-one years ago today, people excluded us. We might even have believed that New York’s best days were behind us. But emerging from tragedy and loss, PAC will be the cornerstone of this living, breathing, and shining new neighborhood in midtown Manhattan.
It also proves that our early dire predictions were all wrong. From our ashes, we have come back stronger, more resilient, more hopeful than ever and achieved the impossible.
Ronald O. Perelman is President and CEO of MacAndrews & Forbes and a member of the PAC Board of Directors.