Doubts emerge over New York City broadcast tower

A number of technical hurdles could force NYC broadcasters to look elsewhere for a permanent DTV home, although the 2000ft Freedom Tower (pictured) is still under consideration.

Will New York City broadcasters get a new antenna tower to replace facilities lost during the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11?

Until recently, the offset spire planned at the top of Freedom Tower — a conscious 21st-century echo of the Statue of Liberty’s upraised arm — was described by architect Daniel Libeskind as the most important remaining element from his largely unrealized design for the signature skyscraper of the new World Trade Center.

The spire, conceived as the world’s tallest building (1776ft; 2000ft with broadcast antenna attached), has survived in renderings and words. Now there are doubts. As construction nears and multimillion-dollar budgets are negotiated, the New York Times reported that the realities of engineering and financing may finally overtake the symbolic architectural gesture devised by Libeskind and embraced by New York Gov. George E. Pataki.

If the tower goes, so go the plans of New York City’s broadcasters. In fact, it’s the technical hurdles that the spire poses for broadcasters that are a big, costly part of the problem.

The Times said the planners are now asking themselves these questions:

  • With the antennas off to one side, would the building itself create too large a shadow for the broadcast signal?
  • Would the signal be compromised because of the distance the transmission cables have to travel from the central building core to the antennas at the tower’s edge?
  • How would an eccentrically located spire behave in high winds?
  • How safe would it be to build such a spire, itself several hundred feet tall, when it cannot easily be secured to all four corners of the building below?
  • How much extra structural reinforcement would be required in the main body of the tower to accommodate an outboard spire?
  • Assuming that the spire would be nonmetallic to avoid interfering with the broadcast signal, what sort of precedent is there for construction with composite materials on that scale and at that elevation?

All the questions can be answered and all the engineering problems solved, the Times report said. But the cost to do it will be very high.

According to the newspaper, no one at the negotiating table will publicly answer these questions, including Paul Bissonette, president of the Metropolitan Television Alliance. The group, which includes New York City channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13, signed a memorandum of understanding in 2003 with the developer, Larry A. Silverstein, to install antennas atop the Freedom Tower. Broadcasters have used the Empire State Building since 9/11.

The alliance had considered building a 2000ft freestanding broadcast mast in Bayonne, N.J. But Edward Grebow, who was then the alliance president, was persuaded that the construction of Freedom Tower would occur “in a plausible time frame” and accommodate the broadcasters’ needs.

Over the following months, the tower design changed considerably. So have the questions. Officials now want to know if the offset spire comes with an extra cost, should New Yorkers pick up the tab? Or should the broadcasters pay, recognizing that they have saved money by not having to build their own skyscraping mast in New Jersey?

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