By: Josh Dawsey | The Wall Street Journal
Developer Larry Silverstein built 4 World Trade Center as a gleaming office tower and a signal of downtown's recovery.
And since it opened last November, the building has been hopping—but not with office workers. Until tenants begin to trickle in, the glass-clad structure, designed by Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, has been serving mostly as an elite event location—home to cocktail parties, fashion shows, movie shoots and unorthodox fundraisers.
Organizers at the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation are expected to announce Wednesday one of the largest public events yet—a stair climb, scheduled for April, that gives people a chance to ascend 72 stories and drink wine at the top.
"There's nothing like the view," said Lorraine Egan, the president and CEO of the Manhattan-based foundation. "It's something we haven't seen in a long time."
At this point, the interior spaces have few flourishes. Concrete floors are connected by beams to an exposed ceiling, with pipes running across the span. But neither the relative rawness—nor a usage fee of $50,000 a day, per floor—has deterred some select renters.
A Super Bowl commercial that included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Don Cheadle and a llama partying and playing ping pong was filmed inside the building. "It was a well-behaved llama," said Justin Moore-Lewy, the executive producer at HeLo, which produced the advertisement.
Producers of an "Annie" movie remake staged a shoot on the 57th floor that included Jamie Foxx and the young Oscar-nominated actress Quvenzhané Wallis.
Downtown Alliance had its holiday party at 4 World Trade Center. Silverstein Properties, Inc.
The Bordeaux Wine Council held a tasting event in November. The Downtown Alliance threw a holiday fête to attract tech firms to the neighborhood. And the Municipal Art Society hosted a gala on the 68th floor.
Mr. Moore-Lewy, the producer, said "it is a giant building where you can more or less do anything."
Still, the lonely feeling is a problem for Mr. Silverstein. The building is about 50% leased, and both tenants are public entities—The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and New York City. Both are still building out their spaces, leaving largely empty floors.
Developers are facing a challenge in renting all the new office space downtown, with some financial firms moving away and others shrinking. Mr. Silverstein would like to build three towers on the site, said Dara McQuillan, a spokesman for Silverstein Properties, who dismissed worries about finding tenants.
"It always takes a couple years to lease up an office building," he said. "It's very unusual to build on speculation. Most developers find a tenant, secure financing and build. Larry's philosophy was 'if you build it, they will come.' "
Mitchell Moss, an urban-planning expert at New York University, said he expects companies to eventually rent the space. The allure of the old World Trade Center site, combined with an expansive transportation hub at Fulton Street, a revitalized downtown and increasing numbers of neighborhood residents, will make the area appealing to corporations, he said.
"It took more than a decade to finish getting the tenants for the first World Trade Center," he said. "Of course it takes time to fill a building."
Silverstein Properties is currently renting three entire floors for private events—though bar mitzvahs and weddings are banned. Some charities, like Ms. Egan's, are using it free. If tenants fill the building, it will no longer be open for such events, Mr. McQuillan said.
For one day in April, it will be bustling with activity. Ms. Egan's charity has used other venues, including Yankee Stadium and Chicago's Willis Tower. Climbers will pay $112 to climb the stairs, for an event the foundation hopes will raise $200,000. The wide staircases are lighted and air-conditioned, with resting platforms after every floor.
"We've just been waiting for this building to open," she said.