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One World Trade Center awaits FCC’s repacking decisions for new broadcast tenants

Twelve years after the destruction of the World Trade Center — home to many broadcast antennas for New York City television and radio stations — much has changed. Most transmitters and antennas eventually relocated to the Empire State Building (where CBS was previously located) and 4 Times Square.

Now, as work is being completed on the top of the new One World Trade Center, broadcasters are faced with the decision of whether or not to return to the location. Antennas can go up to a height of 1700ft on the new building, and the facility will be ready for broadcasters who want to move there in 2015.

However, so far, none have made the commitment. Presumably everyone is waiting on the FCC’s decision to repack broadcast spectrum after next year’s spectrum auction before making a decision. The cost of relocating versus the amount of viewers that reply on over-the-air broadcast might also be a factor.

One World Trade Center is owned by the New York Port Authority, while the broadcast facility that includes the antenna spire at the top (which was completed just last week) is managed by the Durst Organization. Durst also owns and manages the 4 Times Square broadcast site and can tie both of the facilities together in a very comprehensive lease package for broadcasters.

John Lyons, assistant vice president and director of Broadcast Communications, told the website RBR-TVBR that he is currently in negotiations with the New York area broadcasters and is working on securing leases. There are currently 11 TV stations and 21 FM radio stations, which serve the nation’s largest and most populated DMA, that could decide to use the space.

Lyons told RBR-TVBR that, so far, the new building has not signed any broadcast clients.

“We are talking to everybody. But nobody has stepped forward at this point,” he said “It is down the road before the building is actually totally finished, and there are antennas up there. That goes back to the repacking of the television band — that’s what the hold-up is — to make a commitment to finalize the antennas and everything that goes along with getting broadcasters up there on the TV side. The FCC has an auction of some of the spectrum. It is tentatively scheduled for June 2014. They want to clear 10 channels in the band nationwide to be able to offer it to broadband to sell. So, they are repacking some of the channels."

Lyons said there will be an upper UHF and a lower UHF spectrum with a separation of the band in the middle.

“But in some markets, some of those UHF stations may move to the VHF channels,” Lyons said. “Until the auction actually takes place middle of next year, or a year out from right now, we don’t know exactly which channels these stations are going to a) be voluntarily move to or b) be forced to move to, to know what antennas I need to actually put up there.”

New York City is expected to have several high-band VHF stations. A major remaining question involves the breakdown of UHF versus VHF allocations. The FCC will issue an NPRM late this year, which gives an outline of the allocation table. At that point, it will open up for a lot broader discussion and the broadcasters will have a pretty good idea of where they’ll end up.