While the New York Stock Exchange contemplates moving from its historic trading floor at Wall and Broad streets, a building just a block and a half away is becoming a high-technology beachhead.
Freshly renovated with fiber-optic cables and copper wires, the building once occupied by Drexel Burnham Lambert, employer of Michael Milken, the king of junk bonds, has been rechristened the New York Information Technology Center. Attracted by tax breaks and proximity to Wall Street, Sun Microsystems, Cornell University, and several firms that supply software to banks and brokerage firms have leased space at the "Silicon Alley" address of 55 Broad St.
Many of the center's tenants speak glowingly about being at the hub of the Lower Manhattan circle of software developers, multimedia content providers, and Internet webmasters.
Investors are busily sniffing around the premises in hopes of cashing in on Internet hype. Chase Manhattan's venture capital arm and Softbank Corp. of Japan recently set aside $25 million to invest in New York-based Internet companies.
But building owner William C. Rudin and his management team see the Information Technology Center as the type of building that all information- centric industries - including banking - will soon need.
"There is not an industry that won't utilize broadband connectivity in the near term," said John Gilbert, the building's chief technology officer. "Banking, law, engineering, architectural, publishing, and advertising are or will move very quickly to an on-line format."
The backbone of 55 Broad St. is a copper-wire and fiber-optic network that can deliver each tenant up to 350 megabits per second, a data stream equal to two weeks' worth of The New York Times.
Tenants can choose from among five local telephone services, five long-distance carriers, and eight Internet access providers. Any choice can be changed at a moment's notice by flipping a switch in the 12th-floor control room.
A local area network connects all offices, and a satellite transmitter on the roof permits broadcast-quality video conferencing.
"The communication lines are our highways, railroads, and airplanes," said Manuel D. Ron, chief financial officer for Sixth Gear, an electronic commerce company. "Instead of an hour to download, it now takes minutes."
Other tenants praised the wiring that allows them to offer added financial services.
"We have servers and workstations in our offices for each of our clients, and their computers are dialing in to communicate with us every day," said Scott Kozak, director of business development at Plaid Brothers, an Irvine, Calif., provider of software for brokerage firms.
"We could have gotten less expensive office space or squeezed into another building," he said of Plaid's weighing of alternatives for expansion in New York. "But the (technology center) is state-of-the-art, and time is of the essence for our clients."
Cornell University's supercomputing center will also open in the building to cater to Wall Street's heavy demand for computer power. The high-speed connectivity will permit the office to solve elaborate problems in real time, as if the clients had direct access to Cornell's computers.
"We will put in a virtual reality environment that will allow them to walk through the data, rather than just see lists of numbers," said Peter M. Siegel, director of corporate programs for the Cornell center.
But while the high bandwidth makes life easier, most of the tenants value the camaraderie of a digital community. A spokesman for Sun Microsystems said the company is building a development lab there for the Java computer language. Sun wants to give New York's Web-developer community access to its programming experts in a less mainstream, low-key environment, the spokesman said.
The building's techno-savvy denizens are already calling the center a model for helping businesses tame the Wild West flavor of Internet entrepreneurship, which requires the collaboration of artistic and technical temperaments.
"For electronic commerce to reach its potential, we are going to require an interdisciplinary approach," said Sixth Gear's Mr. Ron.
Describing the array of tenants, he said, "there are purely technical programmers and software developers on the far end. Telecommunication industry specialists take care of the infrastructure and the bandwith. Marketing and 'new media' provide the content and then someone needs to build the interface.
"All the steps need to be in place for a transaction on the Internet to be as easy or as simple as pulling up to a mall in your car."
Tenants turn to others with technical problems. Scott Sottile of Greenwich Financial Modeling Inc. said his neighbors on the 14th floor helped him find a router to connect to the Internet. He, in turn, helped them load Windows 95 onto a laptop for a product demonstration on Wall Street.
The idea for the Information Technology Center was hatched last year when New York City officials decided that tax rebates would help cultivate the nascent new media industry - and give a shot in the arm to a long- ailing real estate market.
The opportunity to renovate 55 Broad St. fell to Mr. Rudin when the owner of a previously selected building on lower Broadway died.
The city offers the center's tenants 50% reductions in real estate taxes and an exemption from commercial rent tax for three years. Energy efficiencies cut utility bills almost in half. Mr. Ron said Sixth Gear saved $20,000 in rent and telecommunications costs by moving from the Soho area to 55 Broad.
Of course, this is only one building. While the center hopes to stand as a real estate model for cyberspace, skeptics doubt that the information revolution will be so kind to the urban core.
"This cyberspace stuff is a two-edged sword," said Los Angeles-based author Joel Kotkin, who has criticized the New York press for exaggerating the local economic impact of new media. "They need the 20- and 30- somethings that you have in the city, but the bad part of it is that network connections mean that people can choose to move outside of the city."
But the indicators are strong at 55 Broad. About 240,000 square feet, more than half the available space, has been leased. "We have had to say 'no' to several major tenants based on the desire to create a community here that is a mixture of hardware, software, and content of diverse sizes," said Mr. Gilbert, the technology officer.