Visions for N.Y.'s Ground Zero

6 rebuilding proposals would restore office space lost in Sept. 11 attacks

Victims' families object to focus

July 17, 2002|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK - The future of Ground Zero began taking shape yesterday as developers unveiled six possible ways to rebuild the devastated site, all of which feature a memorial park to the nearly 3,000 killed in the Sept. 11 attacks and a city skyline that will remain permanently altered by the absence of the World Trade Center towers.

The plans vary in the amount of space allotted to a memorial park, but all replace - in shorter buildings - the entire 11 million square feet of office space lost in the towers' destruction.

The focus on office space drew swift criticism from relatives of the trade center victims who favor commemoration over commerce, as well as design professionals who envisioned a more vibrant site rather than one dominated by 9-to-5 workers.

But although the proposals all call for intense commercial construction, the configurations vary - ranging from four to six towers of 32 to 85 stories, compared with the 110-story twin towers they replace.

Still, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. - the state agency created to rebuild the site - said it plans to add interest and height to the skyline with antennas and other design elements that would bring the tip of the tallest building in each plan to 1,500 feet.

The LMDC presented its plans as a way of reclaiming the city from the terrorists who would destroy it.

"They believed if they knocked our buildings down, they would damage our spirits and sink our morale," declared John Whitehead, LMDC chairman. "They were wrong.

"We will rebuild," Whitehead said. "It is now not a question of whether, but how."

Many groups have claims - actual or emotional - on the former World Trade Center complex.

There is the Port Authority, which owns the site, and the developer who holds the lease on the former twin towers. But their financial interest in seeing the site restored to its former heavily commercial state conflicts with other groups interested in the site - most notably, the victims' family members who consider Ground Zero their loved ones' final resting place.

At least one family member who advocated that a memorial be the centerpiece, if not the entirety, of a redeveloped site, is disappointed that all six proposals instead seem to have a single agenda: to make sure that there is 11 million square feet of office space and 600,000 square feet of retail on top of that.

"And I was unreasonable to ask for 16 acres for a memorial?" said Monica Iken, whose husband, Michael, died in the attacks.

Iken, who founded the group September's Mission to lobby for a memorial, is particularly angered that two of the six proposals call for construction on the most emotionally sensitive parts of the site, the so-called "footprints," where the twin towers once stood.

"The footprints are non-negotiable," she said. "They are sacred and hallowed ground."

The LMDC unveiled its plans at Federal Hall, the site just several blocks from Ground Zero where George Washington took the oath to become the nation's first president and Congress passed the Bill of Rights - and where in September the current Congress will meet in a show of support for the devastated area.

The six plans will be on display in Federal Hall beginning a week from today, and visitors will be able to give their opinions. Additionally, public input will be solicited on the LMDC Web site,, and at a series of public hearings, including a town hall-style meeting Saturday at the Javits Convention Center that is expected to draw 5,000 area residents.

The LMDC stressed that its six proposals are merely that - they are open to revision and even elimination. The agency will combine elements from the various proposals, and perhaps introduce new aspects, to narrow the number of plans to three in September.

Then, those three plans will be narrowed to a single draft plan in December. Officials would not venture a guess yesterday of when construction could begin.

The memorial would be determined, according to the LMDC, by an international competition. Reaction to the proposals came quickly yesterday as many have been closely following the LMDC's progress. Business interests tended to have mostly favorable responses.

"This plan rebuilds the economic infrastructure that was lost," said Kathryn Wylde, president of the New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce. "The essence of Lower Manhattan is as an economic base."

But others disputed that and expressed disappointment that the LMDC did not take the opportunity to be more creative in its vision of the site.

"What goes on the site should not be driven solely by sheer economics," said Beverly Willis, an architect and a founder of Rebuild Downtown Our Town, one of several civic groups that have emerged since Sept. 11 to provide advice on redeveloping the site. "The world has changed. We've changed.

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