- John Dentato
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which occurred 14 years ago Friday, real-estate mogul Donald Trump became the most prominent backer of a plan to rebuild Manhattan’s World Trade Center.
Trump, the current front-runner in the Republican presidential primary, lent his support to the effort in 2005. Among other things, he made media appearances during which he blasted the proposed Freedom Tower that was eventually built on the WTC site as “disgusting.”
“It doesn’t represent what we want to have represented. What I want to see built is the World Trade Center stronger and maybe a story taller, and that’s what everybody wants,” Trump said in an appearance on MSNBC. “It’s just terrible what’s happened in New York. … We should have the World Trade Center bigger and better.”
The proposal to rebuild the Twin Towers, which were destroyed on 9/11, was the brainchild of structural engineer Ken Gardner. He created a plan to rebuild the buildings five stories higher with more modern safety features. Gardner’s proposal also included a 9/11 memorial, made with panels from the original towers.
In an interview with Business Insider Friday, Gardner said Trump reached out to him after seeing his model for the project, which he dubbed “Twin Towers II.” Gardner had been discussing the plan on MSNBC and Trump encountered his model when he went on the channel for an unrelated interview.
“He just realized, like most of the public did at the time, that that was the solution,” Gardner said of Trump. “It was just based on, in Israel, whenever a building was destroyed by terrorists, they put it back. And in this case, since the building was as old as it was, we were putting it back, but a modern version of it.”
In the MSNBC appearance, Trump said building the Freedom Tower would grant a victory to the terrorists who attacked America.
“The terrorists win if we build this job the way it is,” Trump said of the Freedom Tower plan. “If we rebuild the World Trade Center, but a story taller and stronger, then we win. I mean, I don’t want to have the terrorists win … and that’s what’s going to happen if we build this pile of junk.”
- REUTERS/Ben Brewer
Trump’s objections to the Freedom Tower plan included its appearance and the fact that it was shorter than the original Twin Towers without a large spire that dominated the top of the building.
“I’d rather have nothing than what they’re building,” Trump said. “It’s a terrible design. It was designed by an egghead architect who really doesn’t have a lot of experience at designing something like this.”
Along with discussing the plan in media appearances, Trump hosted a press conference with Gardner at his headquarters, Trump Tower, in May 2005. At that event, Trump introduced Gardner and a model of his Twin Towers proposal that he kept on display in the Trump Tower lobby.
Along with the model, Trump placed a guest book in the lobby where people could express support for the plan. According to Gardner, they collected over 20,000 signatures.
At the press conference, Trump said that he had no official role in the construction at the World Trade Center site. Trump said he simply hoped his public support for Gardner’s plan could have influence.
“I only have the power of persuasion,” Trump said. “It’s a very simple power, but sometimes it can be very strong.”
Gardner’s plan also had the support of the Twin Towers Alliance, a group created to allow public input on the plans for the World Trade Center site.
Twin Towers Alliance cofounder Margaret Donovan told Business Insider that she felt Trump’s support for Gardner’s plan was “altruistic.”
“I think he’s a man who, when he sees something needs to be fixed, knows how to fix it, and wants to fix it,” Donovan said of Trump. “In the case of the towers, I think he knew how to fix it and wanted to fix it, but he didn’t have the control. … He gave it his best shot.”
Donovan pointed to polls by the New York Post and MSNBC that indicated that the public supported rebuilding the towers. She claimed she actually wrote to Trump about the plan before he got involved.
“I just believed that Donald Trump was the key, that he had the character, that he had just the persona, the influence, but most of all, the chutzpah to turn around something that already was badly ingrained in the wrong direction,” Donovan explained.
Trump did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Gardner said he believed Trump wanted to back his plan “as a New Yorker.”
“That’s what impressed me about him, because as a New Yorker and as an American citizen, he really took an interest in what he felt and a lot of people felt was the best solution for the site and for the country. … I thought it was the best way to heal the country and Donald Trump felt the same way,” Gardner said.
He added: “I think his support for this showed his patriotism.”
After his experience with Trump, Gardner said he “would consider voting for him” in 2016.
“There are others that I’m also looking at, but we need strength,” Gardner said. “We need someone with determination.”
Watch a video of Trump discussing the Twin Towers II plan: