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How 9/11 Changed Wall Street

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Wall Street is the financial capital of the world, but the street itself and the neighborhood around it, they are not what they used to be. After 9/11, a lot of banks and brokerages left lower Manhattan. Here's NPR's David Gura.

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: When longtime financial executive Wick Simmons got his first job in 1966, all the big banks were in downtown New York near the stock exchanges.

WICK SIMMONS: Wall Street, as I knew it, is gone.

GURA: It disappeared after 9/11, says Simmons, who was the CEO of NASDAQ. After the attacks, many financial firms decided to move to midtown Manhattan and to New Jersey and Connecticut. Executives questioned the wisdom of having an entire industry consolidated in one corner of the city. So developers and politicians tried to reimagine and reinvent the neighborhood.

SIMMONS: Now, as I go downtown, downtown's become kind of a southern residential district, with a few scattered financial firms but nothing like the powerhouse it once was.

GURA: The numbers bear that out. Today, there are more than two times as many apartments and condos in Lower Manhattan as there were before September 11 and six times as many hotels. It's now home to a $250 million mall. Financial firms may have scattered, but the symbols of this place's power remain - the bronze charging bull sculpture on Broadway and the iconic New York Stock Exchange. That's where trader Jonathan Corpina has worked for more than two decades and where we meet up just a few minutes before the opening bell. He shows me some landmarks that have been repurposed in the last 20 years.

JONATHAN CORPINA: This was the JPMorgan Bank that was back here. This was another large bank.

GURA: Today, these buildings are apartments. There are also restaurants and bars and high-end retail. Wall Street has become a residential neighborhood, which it was not before 9/11.

CORPINA: It was all business down here. And then at 4:30, everyone would just go away and go back home to wherever they lived. And it was very, very quiet down here.

GURA: Some of the uniqueness of the old Wall Street is gone, according to Fred Price. He was a founding partner of the investment bank Sandler O'Neill, which is now Piper Sandler.

FRED PRICE: When you landed yourself in that southern tip of Manhattan, you knew that you and everybody else there were kind of doing the same thing, right? You were all in the financial services business of some kind.

GURA: Striking big deals and making money. Before the attacks, nearly half the jobs in lower Manhattan were in finance, insurance and real estate. By the beginning of 2020, they were down to a third. Many are based at the New World Trade Center, including the companies Conde Nast and Spotify. And the banks, they fanned out across New York City. Today, Price's office is about 50 blocks north in Midtown, not far from Park Avenue, where JPMorgan Chase is building its new headquarters. But a few financial firms decided to stay downtown, including American Express. Ken Chennault was the chairman and CEO at the time.

KEN CHENAULT: We were literally right across the street from the World Trade Center.

GURA: Its headquarters was badly damaged, and Chenault says he sympathized with colleagues and employees who thought American Express should relocate.

CHENAULT: If I'd taken, frankly, a popular vote inside the company at that time, I think the vote would have been to move.

GURA: But Chenault says he was committed to the neighborhood - yes to what it could become but also to its past. Lower Manhattan has been home to American Express since the 1850s.

David Gura, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOKHOV'S "SOLACE REFLECT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.