By: Vivian Marino | The New York Times
Mr. Lieber, 53, is the president of the World Trade Center Properties division of Silverstein Properties, overseeing the developer’s four World Trade Center buildings.
Before joining Silverstein Properties in 2003, Mr. Lieber served in the administration of Mayor Edward I. Koch and as an acting assistant secretary of the Department of Transportation under President Bill Clinton.
Interview conducted and condensed by
Q. You go by the name Janno instead of your given name, John Nathan.
A. I’m universally known as Janno, even though my legal name is John. When someone calls up and asks for John Lieber, I know it’s a telemarketer.
My parents made up nicknames for all their children that were sort of loosely based on the dead European relatives. I have a brother who’s legally James, but he’s known as Jed; I have another brother whose name is George, but he’s known as Theo. My sister was Anne Gabrielle, so she was Angie. Get it?
Q. What’s your main role at World Trade Center Properties?
A. I’m the overall project director of the World Trade Center project for the Silverstein organization, so I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. I do everything from financing to the legal to the design and construction to the P.R. and government relations.
Q. How involved is Larry Silverstein in the organization these days?
A. Very much. Larry’s 84 and he’s definitely taking a little bit more time off than he used to. But wherever he is, he calls, and he’s very, very deeply involved. There’s sort of a slow-motion succession that’s underway with Marty Burger, who’s our C.E.O.
Q. Where are you in this succession?
A. The company has announced internally that I’m going to be the companywide director of development, so I’m technically moving into the role of overseeing all of the development projects.
Q. The World Trade Center projects seem to be moving along quite nicely. Are you pleased with the progress?
A. Very much. After 9/11, everybody wanted us to do something with the World Trade Center that was both commemorative but also to rebuild that area, and that’s being accomplished very successfully.
Q. There’s 7, 4, 3 and 2 World Trade Center. Let’s talk about each of them.
A. No. 7 opened in 2006, and it’s fully leased. Moody’s is around 400,000 square feet. But there are also a lot of interesting, creative tenants, like Fast Company and BMI, the music publisher.
No. 4 opened in November 2013 and it’s about two-thirds leased. The Port Authority is the largest tenant so far, but we also got MediaMath, which is a technology firm. And we just announced four other new tenants. There’s a mix of some financial tenants, but also this new creative group and media.
No. 3 is going to be finished toward the end of 2017. It’s 40-plus stories up right now. It’s a two-and-a-half-million-square-foot building, plus or minus, and it was able to go forward because we made a lease with GroupM, which is a WPP affiliate advertising and technology company. They have about half a million feet. We did almost $2 billion worth of financing in the fall of 2014, so that project’s very much on schedule. It’s moving about a floor a week.
And No. 2 is the recent big news, because 21st Century Fox and News Corp. entities — all the Murdoch companies — have decided to move down there and consolidate all of their space. They’ll take up about half of the building, which is about 2.8 million square feet. It’s the last building on the site that will be built, and I think it will be the capstone of this transition of downtown from old financial services that kind of roll up the sidewalks at 5 o’clock to the new downtown, which is very much the creative businesses.
Q. Have you started working on No. 2?
A. Actually, the new building is being designed. The old design didn’t work for Fox. It’s being redesigned so they can have their studios and newsrooms.
The building will be close to 100 floors. They’re taking the bottom half.
Q. When will you be breaking ground on that building?
A. We have to complete the lease with Fox and do the financing. That’ll happen in the next year.
We’re talking to other tenants already — there are significant tenants that are interested because they think the design is supercool. It’s by this young architect named Bjarke Ingels.
From our standpoint, it’ll be mostly done in 2019, but it has to open for Fox to operate about halfway through 2020.
Q. What kinds of rental rates per square foot are you getting for these buildings?
A. I’m not going to talk about specific leases, but we’re doing leases in the $70s and $80s, and rents are continuing to rise.
Q. Are you involved with any other projects?
A. I’m involved with a couple of our other projects: a condo building at One West End; that’ll open in 2017. And we have another project at the so-called Mercedes-Benz site, between 40th and 41st Street on 11th Avenue. We’re also building a Four Seasons hotel and private residences downtown, which has topped out and will be completed in the next year.
Q. Why did you leave government work?
A. I had a great four years in the Clinton administration, but I didn’t want to stay in Washington any longer. I’m kind of a hard-core New Yorker.
Q. So where were you on 9/11?
A. I was in Downtown Brooklyn, and I actually watched the Twin Towers come down from a distance. And then I saw a lot of people who had walked back across the bridge covered with the ashes and soot of the towers, and I momentarily ran into Bill de Blasio, who was then campaigning for his first primary election to run for council.