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Transforming a Symbol of Tragedy

Recovery: New Yorkers are given six designs for a rebuilt World Trade Center site to consider. But obstacles litter the path to completion.


NEW YORK — It may be years before the World Trade Center is fully reconstructed, but the long, contentious process of approving a final design took a big step forward Tuesday, as planning officials unveiled six possible designs for the 16-acre site.

Although the conceptual schemes differ in major respects--some calling for huge office buildings, others devoting much of the area to grassy open space--each one provides ample room for a memorial to the 2,823 people killed here in the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The question is not whether we will rebuild on this site, but how," said John Whitehead, chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., at a news conference held in Federal Hall on Wall Street. "What we all agree on is that there be fitting remembrance for those who died. But there is no need to rush. It is desirable not to move too fast."

Given the timetable--and the notoriously slow pace of most major development in New York--there is little danger of that happening. Following Tuesday's unveiling, officials have scheduled what is expected to be one of the largest public hearings in city history Saturday at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, where more than 5,000 people are expected to voice opinions on the plans.

"We think of today's event and the weekend public hearing as the very beginning, a point to start a truly important dialogue," said Julie Menin, founder of Wall Street Rising, a nonprofit group trying to spur economic development and tourism in Lower Manhattan. "Nobody knows what's going to finally take shape at the site, but we're going to press our concerns, because we've got quite a few, and I'm sure thousands of other people in this city and around the country will be doing the same."

Judging by the extraordinary range of ideas expressed so far, there are bound to be debates over the proposals to build clusters of 60- to 80-story buildings on the site, the tallest of which are topped off with sculptures or radio antennae for a "signature" effect on the skyline. Other ideas, such as the creation of a pedestrian promenade that would rival Washington's National Mall in size, are also likely to draw intense public comment.

The next step, Whitehead said, will be to winnow the six development concepts to three in September. If the schedule continues as planned, a final design would be tentatively approved by planning officials in late December.

Yet even that proposal, which is expected to incorporate major elements of the six plans unveiled Tuesday, could be subject to major revision and change. Although the ideas presented this week ideally contain the DNA of a final plan, the blueprint could be altered at any time, Whitehead noted.

Indeed, whatever finally rises at the World Trade Center site will be subject to approval by the governors of New York and New Jersey, the legislatures of both states, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the devastated site, plus the mayor of New York and myriad city planning and transportation agencies.

Any one of these public officials or agencies could derail the planning process. Last weekend, for example, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg got a sneak preview of the six proposals and said he wasn't thrilled with any of them, adding: "New Yorkers have a lot of different ideas as to what should be built here."

The plans can be reviewed on a Web site,, and will be on public display beginning next week. Despite their differences, they agree on several points: Each proposal calls for a memorial and the reconstruction of 11 million square feet of commercial office space, a 600,000-square-foot hotel and 600,000 square feet of retail space, all of which were lost in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The plans also call for a massive underground transit terminal for Lower Manhattan, a facility on the scale of Grand Central Station that would link subway and bus lines, commuter rail and ferry transit in a hub stretching from New Jersey and the Hudson River on the west to the East River, Brooklyn and Long Island in the east.

None of the proposals, which were illustrated in elaborate sketches and also laid out in three-dimensional models, calls for buildings equal in size to the twin 110-story towers that were destroyed. The highest building in any of the plans would be 85 stories.

Few here believed that tenants would want to relocate in exact replicas of the doomed buildings, but beyond that the ideas for rebuilding ground zero roam far and wide over what has become deeply emotional terrain.

Some victims' families, backed by former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, said there should be no development whatsoever on the site, viewing it as sacred ground akin to Gettysburg or Pearl Harbor. But all six proposals call for major commercial development, and two ignore family members' wishes that no new buildings arise on the one-acre sites, or footprints, where each of the twin towers stood.

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