By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Few thought it would take quite so long to fully restore the dimmed lights of the famed skyline of New York City's Financial District.
At last, however, firms displaced by the flooding and power outages brought on by Superstorm Sandy seem ready to return downtown, if a little warier of the rivers and sea that surrounds them.
Water Street was more water than street when Sandy hit. Nearly three weeks later, many of the flooded office towers that line the street as it skirts the East River toward the harbor at Manhattan's southernmost tip remain closed.
Yellow caution tape still decks the doors to darkened, mucky lobbies. The usual crowds of suited office workers have vanished from the sidewalks, replaced by a handful of clean-up workers and security officers.
"It's definitely a hiccup in our revenue and a disruption of our ongoing business operations," said Lou Colasuonno, a senior managing director of FTI Strategic Communications, a PR firm specializing in crisis management.
He and about 90 other employees who usually work in a building near Water Street have had to decamp to another office owned by the firm in Midtown Manhattan. Many displaced firms have improvised in similar ways, by dispersing employees to other premises, renting temporary office space and encouraging employees to work remotely with their laptops and cellphones.
Despite the squeeze, Colasuonno said he was making the most of seeing colleagues he might normally only email. Echoing others, he also pointed out that the Financial District weathered a far graver disaster in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.
"It's going to take more than a couple of feet of water to chase New Yorkers out of Manhattan," Colasuonno said of the record-breaking surges caused by Sandy.
A number of Wall Street institutions, including the New York Stock Exchange and some major banking firms, were able to resume business as soon as power was restored after the October 29 storm.
But many buildings in low-lying areas suffered longer-lasting damage to electrical and heating infrastructure. A report earlier this week from commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle showed about 30 percent of the area's rentable office space still was closed because of the storm.
As more buildings come back to life each day, the majority of displaced businesses were expecting to return home before November was out, although employees of the New York Daily News, based in one of the last buildings before Manhattan gives way to the sea, have been warned it may be nearly a year before they can return to their old newsroom.
John Wheeler, who heads the Jones Lang LaSalle's Lower Manhattan office, said there was little sign that businesses that got soaked would consider moving up Manhattan or elsewhere to higher ground.
"The attributes that lead to Lower Manhattan's resurgence are intact," he said, referring to office space that was on average around $20 to $25 cheaper per square foot compared to Midtown Manhattan. Continued...