Construction Begins at Ground Zero

By AMY WESTFELDT
The Associated Press
Thursday, April 27, 2006; 10:59 PM

NEW YORK -- After months of disputes over the future of ground zero, state and city officials finally brought in the heavy equipment and began construction Thursday on the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower that will rise at the World Trade Center site.

"It is going to be a symbol of our freedom and independence," Gov. George Pataki said after three yellow construction trucks _ driven by workers wearing hard hats emblazoned with the American flag and the words "Freedom Tower, World Trade Center" _ rolled down a ramp to applause from politicians.

The project has been held up by bickering between city and state agencies and the project's chief developer, and by objections, mostly from Sept. 11 family members, to the design of the trade center memorial.

But a breakthrough came this week when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, reached an agreement with developer Larry Silverstein, who held the lease on the twin towers.

The agency had been pressing Silverstein to give up control over the $2.1 billion Freedom Tower, for fear he would not have the financial means to complete the project. Silverstein agreed to surrender control of the skyscraper and a second building, but will build three other office towers at ground zero.

The Freedom Tower is scheduled to open in 2011, and officials said Wednesday's deal means all five towers could be built by 2012. Construction has also begun on the memorial.

The project will return millions of square feet of office space, shops and people to downtown's financial district.

"Everybody had a smile on their face and everybody understands _ if you're not happy with the design, you had your chance, if you're not happy with the deal, you had your chance," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "We've finally all come together and said what we're going to do, so now we're going to do it."

Business and civic leaders have wondered whether there is demand for that much office space downtown, and said that the Freedom Tower has not attracted tenants yet because of its height and its potential as a terrorist target.

But Pataki said: "We are not going to just build low in the face of a war against terror."

The Freedom Tower will be as high as the 110-story World Trade Center towers. But an illuminated spire will stretch the building to the symbolic 1,776 feet envisioned in the original Freedom Tower design. That would be taller than any building in existence, although even taller skyscrapers are planned in Chicago and the United Arab Emirates.

Thursday was the second time officials tried to start construction on the tower, which has been designed three times. Architect Daniel Libeskind drew the first Freedom Tower, a twisting glass skyscraper with an off-center spire meant to evoke the Statue of Liberty.

David Childs produced a sleeker version of Libeskind's design, then reworked it again last year after police expressed concerns that the building was not sturdy enough to withstand a truck bomb.

Politicians broke ground on July 4, 2004, with a 20-ton granite cornerstone that has remained encased in blue plywood at the site since construction stalled.

Crews began relocating utilities around the Freedom Tower site weeks ago, and plan to do other work to prepare to lay the foundation over the next month.

Officials said they do not expect any major changes to the Freedom Tower's design or construction schedule now that the Port Authority is taking over

But Childs said the price is likely to go up because of the rising cost of steel and concrete.

___

Associated Press Writer Sara Kugler contributed to this report.


© 2006 The Associated Press