Jeff McKay | Correspondent | Thursday, April 27, 2006
The path is finally clear for the development of Freedom Tower, the cornerstone of the new World Trade Center redevelopment. Developer Larry Silverstein and the New York Port Authority reached agreement on the terms Wednesday after a long squabble over who would be responsible for the project.
Less than 24 hours after both parties agreed, the order was given for crews to begin. Bulldozers descended into the pit known as Ground Zero to begin preparing the foundation for the construction of Freedom Tower, which will rise 1,776 feet high and serve as the centerpiece to the World Trade Center site.
Included in the development of the 16-acre site along with the 82-story Freedom Tower are four other skyscrapers, a regional mass transit hub, a performing arts center, and the memorial to those who lost their lives on 9/11.
"This is a tremendous breakthrough. We're going to be able to continue to move forward and make sure we do so, both respectfully for an appropriate memorial and with the confidence in our future that the Freedom Tower is going to express," said Gov. George Pataki at the press conference to announce the agreement.
Rebuilding plans have stalled over arguments ranging from the size of buildings to building design, and even whether skyscrapers should be built at all. The size and scope of the proposed mass transit hub have been debated. Most of all, arguments have raged over the design and scope of the memorial to the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
Ground was symbolically broken on the Freedom Tower on July 4, 2004, with a 20-ton inscribed granite cornerstone, however disputes ensued among the Port Authority, Silverstein, business leaders and politicians over control of the development, the billions of dollars earmarked for the project and who would be responsible for the other construction on the site.
Silverstein had signed a 99-year lease to the twin towers just six weeks before the attack. He has continued to pay rent on the site despite the fact that he has no buildings or tenants. Pataki, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Port Authority believed Silverstein did not have the necessary resources to finance the Freedom Tower and the overall rebuilding process.
The agreement now gives control of the Freedom Tower to the Port Authority, along with a second skyscraper that may change from an office building to apartments. Silverstein will build and lease three other office towers at the site.
"This is about moving the rebuilding forward as quickly as possible. We must all work together to achieve our vital mission, to fully revitalize and renew New York's historic downtown region," said Silverstein.
When finalized, the Freedom Tower will be the tallest building in North America, more than 300 feet taller than Chicago's Sears Tower. In all, more than 8 million square feet of office space will be developed, not including the fifth proposed building, which might become residential. Government leases are expected to take up to half of the 2.6 million square feet of office space in the Freedom Tower and about a quarter of all the office space to be built.
With all sides now in agreement, it is expected that the Freedom Tower along with three other buildings rising 58 to 70 stories high will be completed and ready for occupancy by 2012.
While works starts now to ready the area for rebuilding, there are some people concerned that too much is going in too fast in the City That Never Sleeps.
Along with the Freedom Tower and the other construction at Ground Zero, New York just approved the building of two new sports stadiums for the Mets and Yankees baseball teams, the massive expansion of the Javits Convention Center, a new transit facility at Madison Square Garden, two major subway expansions and various other building projects around Manhattan.
There are still lingering questions about the design of the 9/11 memorial and whether everything has been done to uncover all of the remains at Ground Zero. Recently, bone fragments were discovered on the roof of the Deutcshe Bank building, which was severely damaged during the terrorist attacks and slated for demolition.
This latest find prompted Democratic U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer to demand that the Army be brought in to look for remains.
"It's been four and half years since September 11 and while thousands of remains have been found, no trace of over a third of the people who died at the Trade Center has been identified," said Schumer who relayed a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. "The families of these victims deserve the best search team there is, and that is our military's Joint POW/MIA Accountability Command."
There is also the question of whether it is wise to build so much office space in one confined area, the same question that was asked when the Twin Towers were first built.
Thirty years ago, the crowning feature to the New York skyline had a problem filling office space until it began to subsidize rents and lured companies into the towers. That action angered other local landlords who lost valued clients.
The costs for rebuilding are also expected to increase. Initially pegged at about $2 billion, the cost to construct the Freedom Tower is rising, due to the impact that higher gasoline and energy prices will have on the construction industry.
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