New skyscraper rises at Ground Zero, amid mosque controversy
As controversy over a proposed mosque two blocks from Ground Zero gathers steam, the 104-story One World Trade Centre is quietly emerging from the sprawling building site in lower Manhattan.
Until last year, Ground Zero was a bleak gash of concrete and steel in the heart of the city’s financial district, visited by tourists, friends and families of the 3,000 victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks, but showing no signs of rebuilding.
Inertia, heated arguments between developers and property owners had slowed the reconstruction process, and the solemn 9/11 commemorations each year that have helped cement Ground Zero’s status as hallowed ground, have made it difficult for the country to turn the page on the tragic memory of the attacks.
And now new attention is being focused on the site amid controversy over plans for a mosque and interfaith centre just blocks away that opponents say is offensive to the memory of those who died in the attacks.
A recent poll found fully 68 per cent of Americans oppose the multi-storey ‘Cordoba House’ project, but it has won support from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who believes it will help to heal the 9/11 wounds.
President Barack Obama recently stepped into the fray, supporting freedom of religion and the right to build on private property, in what political observers said was a risky move three months from key legislative elections.
In the midst of the bitter dispute, work is proceeding apace on the One World Trade Centre building that is intended to honour the memory of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the attacks, while moving the city past the tragedy.
The brainchild of architect David Childs, the skyscraper will be the tallest in the Americas, rising 1,776 feet (541 metres) in homage to the year the US declared independence. So far, 32 storeys of steel girders are in place.
The 104-storey building is scheduled for completion in 2013, according to Cushman and Wakefield real estate, the company that will lease its 269,000 square metres of office space and 46,000 square metres of stores, restaurants and observation decks.
Cushman vice-chairman Tara Stacom told AFP last Wednesday that the mosque controversy has not harmed business.
“There has not been any impact,” she said, adding that as far as One World Trade Centre was concerned, “demand is very strong”.
“This building will be transformative for this city and many companies want to be a part of it,” she said.
“We have a letter of intent with Conde Nast (publisher) for a significant portion of the building.”
By the end of the year the building should stand 50 storeys high.
“Here we are, after nine years of this, and this thing is moving forward at a terrific pace,” the project’s chief developer Larry Silverstein told NY1 news channel.
Builders also promised that One WTC will be the “greenest” building in the world, with ultra-clear windows and a rainwater collection system, among other features.
A Chinese firm was first to sign a lease for 17,000 square metres of office space in the tower.
Five different high-rises will surround the building, including the 288-metre Tower 4 which can also be seen sprouting at Ground Zero.
The mega-project faced delays amid differences between Silverstein, who leased the entire World Trade Centre site only weeks before 9/11, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. In March, they reached an agreement.
“I think everybody came to the realisation that this had to get done, and the Port Authority came to realise they cannot do this without us; we realised we can’t do this without them,” said Silverstein.
The 79-year-old developer, who last year was uncertain he would be able to see the project to its end, is now confident it will be completed in five or six years.
The new World Trade Centre site will include a 9/11 memorial and a bus and train transportation hub designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava that “will be much larger than Grand Central,” said Stacom.