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Trucks roll to begin Freedom Tower construction

Larry Silverstein smiles up at his 7 World Trade Center tower.
Earlier story: Freedom Tower finally a go

After spending months wrangling for control of buildings and money at ground zero, politicians and a private developer gathered Thursday as excavation trucks rolled out to mark the beginning of construction of the Freedom Tower, the symbolic skyscraper designed to replace the destroyed World Trade Center.

Hours after the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owned the trade center, approved a broad new deal with developer Larry Silverstein that changes timelines and rebuilding strategies for lower Manhattan, Silverstein announced Wednesday that construction crews would report to the site Thursday morning.

Early Thursday, New York Gov. George Pataki, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Silverstein stood on the ramp leading to the site, shaking hands with about a dozen workers. Three large excavating trucks then rolled down the ramp, driven by workers wearing hard hats emblazoned with the American flag and the words "Freedom Tower, World Trade Center."

For the next month, crews will be relocating utilities and doing other preparatory work before laying the building's foundation.

"It is going to be a symbol of our freedom and independence," Pataki said at a news conference overlooking the site.

Addressing concerns that the Freedom Tower would be a potential terrorist target because of its height, Pataki added: "We are not going to just build low in the face of a war against terror."

Silverstein, who leased the twin towers weeks before they were destroyed in 2001, said: "This is an opportunity for us to show our determination, our resiliency, our resolve."

Pataki, Bloomberg and other politicians had called the developer greedy in recent weeks during a heated battle for control of development and billions of dollars in rebuilding money at the 16-acre site.

Wednesday's deal switches control of leasing the Freedom Tower from Silverstein to the Port Authority, along with a second skyscraper that may change from an office building to apartments. Silverstein, who oversaw design and construction plans for the $2.1 billion Freedom Tower, will still build it, and build and lease three other office towers located closer to a mass transit hub on the site.

David Childs, the Freedom Tower's architect, said he didn't expect the Port Authority's takeover of the building to change the design or delay rebuilding. "They've been looking at all our plans and endorsing it all along," said Childs, who attended Thursday's event.

Business and political leaders say the resolution of the impasse that had stalled rebuilding would help return millions of square feet of destroyed office space to downtown Manhattan and attract tenants who have been slow to come back.

Silverstein has built another tower, 7 World Trade Center, that still is mostly empty. The Freedom Tower has no tenants committed, although the Port Authority said it would commit to fill nearly half of it with government leases.

Business leaders expressed concern that the Freedom Tower would be difficult to rent because it is in a more distant part of the site and a potential terrorist target. Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association advocacy group, said Wednesday the iconic tower "still looms as a potential public liability."

"Before billions of public dollars are committed to its construction and tenancy, we encourage the Port Authority to take a second look at its viability from a security and marketability perspective," Yaro said.

But Charles Gargano, a vice chairman at the Port Authority, expressed confidence that continued rebuilding will attract the tenants lost by the twin towers' destruction by the time the Freedom Tower opens in 2011.

"We have five years to create that kind of a market," he said.

Thursday was the second time officials tried to start construction on the tower, which is on its third design. Architect Daniel Libeskind drew the first Freedom Tower, a twisting glass skyscraper with an off-center spire meant to evoke the Statue of Liberty. Childs produced a second design of the tower, then a third last year after police expressed concerns the structure was not sturdy enough to withstand a terrorist's truck bomb.

Politicians broke ground on the tower for the first time on July 4, 2004, with a 20-ton inscribed granite cornerstone that has remained encased in blue plywood since construction stalled.

Officials said the deal Wednesday ensures that all five planned towers would be built by 2012. Other plans for ground zero include a memorial, a transit hub and a performing arts center. Construction has begun on the memorial and transit hub; both are scheduled to open in 2009.

Earlier story: Freedom Tower finally a go

Silverstein to start prep work at site -
'Everyone a winner,' sez a happy mayor

World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein will finally begin living up to his mandate today - starting work on the Freedom Tower after months of acrimony and delays.

"Clearly, there are some issues that need to be resolved," Silverstein said in a statement. "But for today, my focus, like that of all New Yorkers, is on getting the Freedom Tower underway."

The Port Authority board approved a conceptual framework that begins construction and the drafting of a formal agreement that will be signed in September.

As a result, the biggest building planned for the 16-acre site - a heavily secured, 1,776-foot office tower with a projected cost of more than $2.1 billion - will begin an estimated five-year-long rise into the sky.

Initial work over the next few weeks will include the mobilization of heavy equipment, the setup of office trailers, the installation of stair towers 70 feet up to street level and site preparation for laying the foundation.

Port Authority chairman Anthony Coscia said the agency will finish excavating the WTC site's eastern section by the middle of next year, clearing the way for Silverstein to start building two more office towers.

By 2011, they'll stand across Church St. from the Century 21 department store and offer additional shops as part of their design.

"This is a real turning point in the development of lower Manhattan," Coscia said.

It came after months of tough, often bitter negotiations that reached their turning point last week when Port Authority executives, Mayor Bloomberg, Gov. Pataki and New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine got behind a unified proposal with two options.

The deal he accepted calls for Silverstein to build and own a total of three office towers along Church St. - 6.2 million square feet in all.

That's 62% of what he said he'd hoped to develop, before the Port Authority and political leaders came to doubt his financial ability to get the entire job done.

In addition, Silverstein will erect the Freedom Tower for the Port Authority, which also will take over from him the development of a site on Liberty St. that's expected to produce a residential building.

The deal also will steer $100 million to the World Trade Center Memorial, which began site preparation work last month.

"I think everybody is a winner here," Bloomberg said yesterday. "We all want to go ahead."

The mayor said he spoke to Silverstein late Tuesday, after he'd agreed to the deal.

"And I committed that the city would do everything it can to make sure that his experience as a developer downtown is a pleasurable and profitable one," Bloomberg added.

"This was not just signing something. He's making a commitment to go ahead and to get all of the development that we need downtown done, and get it done in a quality way and an expeditious way."

As part of the deal, the city and the Port Authority, which was headquartered in the World Trade Center until 9/11, agreed to become anchor tenants in the Silverstein tower planned at Church and Liberty Sts.

Coscia said this commitment, on the eastern side of the site, "allows the full commercial development to proceed, and creates less of a competitive pressure on tenancies for the Freedom Tower and other buildings that will be at the site."

Pataki called the deal with Silverstein "a very positive step," noting it will add to downtown work already underway - on Goldman Sachs' new headquarters, the WTC Memorial, the Port Authority's WTC PATH station and the MTA's Fulton St. Transit Center.

With Michael Saul



Originally published on April 27, 2006

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