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Bank Sues Insurers to Try to Raze Tower Near Ground Zero

Wed August 27, 2003 - Northeast Edition

NEW YORK (AP) Deutsche Bank filed a lawsuit Monday, Aug, 11, to try to force two European insurance companies to pay for the demolition of its badly damaged office tower near ground zero, calling it an “unfortunate remnant of a national tragedy.”

The insurance companies, Allianz of Germany and AXA of France, have argued that the 41-story building was not so badly damaged in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center that it could not be repaired.

The 29-year-old building at 130 Liberty St. suffered a 15-story gash in its facade when the twin towers collapsed barely 150 ft. away. The bank building, exposed to the elements, became infected with mold.

The bank said in a lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan that tornado force winds from the fallen 110-story towers distributed asbestos and other contaminants throughout the building, making it impossible to safely repair.

Additional dust entering the building during the cleanup of ground zero also deposited asbestos, lead, mercury, PCBs and other contaminants throughout the structure, it said.

The bank said it spent $33 million over 10 months studying structural and contamination issues before deciding the building had to be razed.

Deutsche Bank asked the court to declare that the building cannot be repaired and to order Allianz and AXA to cover its portion of the costs associated with its replacement.

Two other insurance companies, Zurich and Chubb, have already settled with Deutsche Bank and have agreed that the building should be torn down. Chubb and Allianz are responsible for 30 percent each of the building insurance; Zurich and AXA cover 20 percent apiece.

The bank called the building, which still has a black netting hanging over it, a “stark reminder of the death and destruction which took place on 9/11.”

“The issue in this case is how long New Yorkers will have to suffer with this unfortunate remnant of a national tragedy,” it said in court papers.

The bank said it would be prepared to begin demolition and make the site part of the ground zero redevelopment were it not for the insurance companies taking “unreasonable positions.”

Redevelopment officials have discussed using the Deutsche Bank site for part of the 10 million sq. ft. of office space that is to replace the twin towers. The idea gained currency in July when Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff mentioned it favorably in a letter to Joseph Seymour, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the trade center site.

In the lawsuit, the bank said it wanted to retrieve $1.71 billion of property damage and business interruption insurance for losses that will exceed $1.9 billion.

Sabia Schwarzer, a spokeswoman of Allianz, said the insurance company believes no proof has been offered to show the building cannot be repaired. She noted that surrounding buildings had been repaired and reoccupied.

Schwarzer said the insurance company has been unfairly portrayed as an obstacle to the reconstruction of the World Trade Center properties.

“Allianz has no influence on that at all,” she said, adding that bank officials “can take the building down tomorrow if they choose.”

A telephone call placed to the New York office of AXA was referred to the Paris office, which was closed.