Wall Street was once the home of the big banks. September 11 led to a radical reinvention


Wick Simmons, the former CEO of Nasdaq, started working on Wall Street in Lower Manhattan after graduating from business school in 1966. Today, he barely recognizes the neighborhood.

“Wall Street, as I knew it, is gone,” says Simmons.

For centuries, Wall Street has been home to the world’s largest banks. The attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11 were a game-changer, as many executives questioned the wisdom of bringing an entire industry together in one place.

And soon after, many banks and financial services companies took stakes. Some of them moved to other parts of New York City, while others left for Connecticut and New Jersey.

Simmons himself has decided to move Nasdaq staff to Times Square, which is now home to the stock exchange’s world headquarters.

Faced with an exodus, developers and city officials decided to reimagine and reinvent Lower Manhattan.

They envisioned a neighborhood that would attract residents and new businesses. It was to be anchored by a sparkling tower that would be part of the new World Trade Center complex, as well as a transit hub designed by famous architect Santiago Calatrava.

It worked.

Meet the New Wall Street

One rainy September morning, Wall Street was in turmoil. Yes, there were costumed traders and bankers tumbling down the cobblestones in front of the iconic New York Stock Exchange building.

But these financial workers outnumbered parents with children going to school. There are now more than twice as many apartments and condominiums as before 9/11, according to data from the Alliance for Downtown, a local business group.

Jonathan Corpina, who has been a Wall Street trader for 23 years and is now a senior managing partner at Meridian Equity Partners, always marvels at the changes.

“This area down here has become a very hot area from a residential standpoint,” Corpina said, pointing to buildings that were previously anchored by banks but have been reused by developers.

It is far from what it was.

“It was all business here,” Corpina says. “And then at 4:30, everyone was going and going home where they lived. It was very, very quiet.”

Today, along the narrow, winding streets, there are new bars and restaurants, as well as upscale boutiques and retailers, including Hermès and Tiffany & Co.

The pandemic dampened the neighborhood’s nightlife, but residents began to return and many businesses welcomed workers again.

Today, Uber and Spotify have taken up residence on Wall Street

The professional nature of Wall Street has also changed.

Before September 11, nearly half of the jobs here were in finance, insurance and real estate, according to the Alliance for Downtown. Since last year, it was a lower proportion: about a third of them.

Dino Fusco, the COO of Silverstein Properties, a major real estate developer responsible for much of the World Trade Center complex, acknowledges the changes.

“There are fewer people dressed as financial services executives, and a lot more people working in tech companies, media companies and advertising companies,” he says.

Many of them are located in the buildings of Silverstein Properties, including Spotify and Uber. Condé Nast is headquartered at One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

Yet some Wall Street alumni miss the old quarter.

Fred Price was a senior partner and founder of Sandler O’Neill when the attacks occurred. Price’s offices were on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, and he lost more than 60 colleagues that day.

The company had been based in the Wall Street neighborhood since 1988, but Price and his colleagues on the executive committee decided it was time to move.

Today the firm – now known as Piper Sandler – is in Midtown, not far from Barclays and JPMorgan Chase.

Price, chief executive of Piper Sandler, acknowledges that post-9/11 movements have changed Wall Street.

“When you landed at the southern tip of Manhattan, you knew you and everyone were doing pretty much the same thing,” he recalls. “You were all in the financial services industry in one way or another.”

A look at Wall Street’s past – and its future

However, not all financial companies have decided to leave the neighborhood.

Ken Chenault, then chief executive officer of American Express, said a significant number of his colleagues wanted to move to another part of town, or even leave New York entirely.

But for Chenault, the past mattered: American Express has been based in Lower Manhattan since the 1850s. And he decided he wanted to be a part of Wall Street’s future, even if that would be drastically different from what it was. they had.

“I was convinced that American Express could play an important role in the revitalization of downtown New York,” he says.

American Express therefore returned to its building on Vesey Street, across from One World Trade Center, in the neighborhood it has lived in for over a century.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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