Sept. 08--For more than four decades, the World Trade Center -- whether standing majestically over lower Manhattan, lying in the ruins of a terrorist attack, or awaiting resurrection in a new form -- has been one of the world's greatest public landmarks.
But in a quiet deal nearly 30 years ago, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey sold off the rights to the iconic buildings' name to a non-profit organization established by one of its powerful executives.
The price was $10.
Until his death this year, the former executive, Guy Tozzoli, earned millions primarily by licensing the name through the group, the World Trade Centers Association. And the Port Authority is among the hundreds of licensees around the world paying thousands of dollars each year for the privilege of using the words "World Trade Center."
Now, with the Port Authority hoping to sell branded souvenirs and merchandise next year after the new One World Trade Center skyscraper opens, the World Trade Centers Association is requesting free office space worth more than $500,000 a year in exchange for use of the trademark.
"I am gravely concerned that a secret deal, years ago, sold the name of the World Trade Center for 10 bucks," said the Port Authority's deputy executive director, Bill Baroni, an appointee ofGovernor Christie. "And I'm going to look into the initial contract and look into where we are today with regard to this organization."
The deal with Tozzoli's group came out of an era when the Port Authority -- which runs the region's airports, major bus terminals, PATH train system, seaports -- was often criticized for leading an imperial, self-interested existence in which its executives were rewarded with travel and other perks unusual in government.
The sale of the trademark turned out to be perhaps the biggest financial benefit of Tozzoli's long, accomplished career during which he oversaw construction of the Twin Towers. In 2011, his last year as president of the non-profit, according to WTCA tax filings, Tozzoli received $626,000 for working an average of one hour per week.
A World Trade Centers Association representative said the organization was not set up to make money, but rather to pursue laudable goals. A search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows the association has trademarked the name on a host of products including greeting cards, pens and binoculars.
"The WTCA is a not-for-profit company," said its general counsel, Scott Richie. "It has not used the trademarks to generate wealth. It has used the trademarks for the collective benefit of its members, helping them develop facilities around the world that foster trade."
The spat is intensifying as the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks approaches -- a tragedy that the non-profit groups says in a promotional video on its website has raised awareness of the World Trade Center brand.
The WTCA, which has its trademarks in more than 100 countries, charges an initial $200,000 for use of the name on a building, plus $10,000 in annual membership fees. The Port Authority, owner of the nearly completed skyscraper called One World Trade Center, pays the $10,000 fee, records show. Silverstein Properties, the firm that is building three other towers on the site that also use the name, has an undisclosed agreement with the association, Richie said.
Each year, more than 320 members, public and private, also pay. In 2011, the company's revenues were $6.9 million.
Its members are an eclectic mix.
The one in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai is a 39-story tower with embassies, government offices and corporate headquarters. Boston's is a 428-room luxury hotel and large convention center on the seaport.
There is also one in a run-down storefront off Hudson Street inHackensack. Suite 1 of the building is the home of the World Trade Center of Northern New Jersey, which doubles as a real estate office.
Kley Peralta, a 70-year-old real estate broker who runs the center with his son, the owner, said they get business leads through the World Trade Center network.
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The event draws around 25,000 attendees each year, including individuals from dozens of countries around the world; more than 1,000 exhibitors; and covers more than 1 million square feet.