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Reflecting Absence was selected on Tuesday as the final memorial design for the Ground Zero site.
• View the design

John Delaportas remembers the area around Liberty Street and Broadway near the World Trade Center as being one of rarely used office buildings, a place where nothing much happened even before September 11. But in the last few months he has seen a remarkable amount of activity.

"It used to be nothing. All of a sudden, there are little bars and clubs," he said. "I see very hip, young people going in and out of them. I think that's very positive thing for Lower Manhattan."

Things are picking up around Ground Zero, and it's not just the crowds. As the new year begins, the process of rebuilding seems to be ending one stage and entering another.

"Six months ago, we kind of knew that the memorial was the last chance for public input," said Mike Kuo, head of Imagine New York, established by the Municipal Art Society to give the public a say in the future of the World Trade Center site. The group announced on December 31, 2003 that it was closing its doors. "Once a memorial design is in place, and once a site plan is in place," Kuo said, "I don't know what more there is to do that will inspire people in massive numbers to come out and help to shape the process."

At the same time, things downtown have begun to show change - there are new ways for people from Battery Park City and New Jersey to get to Ground Zero, and new places for residents downtown to live and students to learn. There are also big plans for the year.

New York will be busy rebuilding in 2004. A design for the Freedom Tower was recently presented to the public, and construction is slated to begin in the fall. Final designs for the memorial are expected as early as this week. [Editor's Note: On Tuesday, January 6, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation announced the jury's selection of "Reflecting Absence"] The design for a new transportation hub will come out later this year. The quickened pace is largely due to an ambitious timeline laid out by George Pataki last spring, then updated in the fall, something that earned both high praise and harsh criticism; some accused the governor of political opportunitism.

Whether it is a good or a bad thing, changes are coming rapidly. Until now, the rebuilding process has been focused mainly on planning. But by the end of this year, much of this planning will be completed, and physical reconstruction will have begun. Below, we look at what is on the schedule for 2004.

JANUARY: Memorial Finalist

The memorial jury, which picked eight finalists last year, has narrowed it down to three, according to the New York Times, and expects to make a final design later this month. When they reconvene this week, the jurors will reportedly be considering only the Passages of Light: The Memorial Cloud , Garden of Lights , and Reflecting Absence . The jury will be evaluating designs that have been altered from those shown to the public in November, but because the process takes place behind closed doors it is not known how greatly the designs have been altered.

The memorial competition is the part of the rebuilding process that has been criticized more than any other for pushing ahead too quickly. Some have said that it is impossible to reflect on 9/11 so soon after the event, others have said that public dissatisfaction over the current designs proves the need to start again. But this unhappiness is not unanimous -- in a Pace University poll of visitors to the display of the designs at the Winter Garden, 62 percent of respondents said they were either "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with the process.

Critics of the process are looking to other levels of government to step in. At the urging of the Coalition of 9/11 Families, which rejected all of the finalist designs because they built on top of the "footprints" of the original Twin Towers, a bill has been introduced into the House of Representatives that would sponsor a National Park Service study of the site to determine whether they warrant historic landmark status. Without a sponsor in the Senate - both New York Senators have declined to introduce it - the bill's supporters admit that they will have trouble getting the bill passed.

On the state level, a New York assemblyman announced last week that he will introduce a bill requiring the Port Authority to return ashes gathered after 9/11 to Ground Zero. Such ashes contain unidentified human remains, and some family members of victims want to have these remains buried on the site instead of at Fresh Kills landfill, where they are now. The announcement gave a push to an effort that has gained momentum in New Jersey, where a similar law was recently passed. Without a New York State bill, the New Jersey bill is only a symbolic gesture, because the Port Authority is jointly controlled by both states.

Critics of these efforts, including the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, have said that the passage of either the federal or the state bill would derail the entire rebuilding process.

For more about the memorial, go to Rebuilding NYC's memorial topic page.

SPRING: Transportation Hub Design

In spring, a preliminary design for Santiago Calatrava's transit station will be presented to the public. $1.7 billion in federal funds have already been allocated for downtown's "Grand Central Terminal," which is to be completed by 2006. Until then, the temporary PATH station that opened at Ground Zero in November will connect downtown to New Jersey.

Also to be presented in the spring is a plan to renovate the Fulton Street subway station, which is receiving $750 million from the federal government. This project will eventually connect to Calatrava's station, forming a major transportation hub in Lower Manhattan.

This month, a series of options for rail access from downtown to JFK and Newark Liberty airports will be announced, after a study paid for by the city and the Port Authority. If such connections are deemed viable, there is $1 billion available for a solution -- $500 million for each airport. Additionally, $250 million of federal transportation money is available if the project goes through.

Other plans will also take advantage of the $4.55 billion that the federal government has earmarked for New York's transportation needs. Over continued objections of some community members, $400 million will go to renovate the South Ferry subway station, and $900 million has been set aside to bury West Street, connecting Battery Park City to the rest of Lower Manhattan. Ferries connecting La Guardia and JFK airports to Manhattan are to be in place by the end of 2004 and 2005 respectively.

For more about transportation, go to Rebuilding NYC's transportation topic page.

SEPTEMBER: Cornerstone For the Freedom Tower

The cornerstone for the Freedom Tower is to be laid by September 11, 2004, the third anniversary of 9/11, and the building is slated to open in 2008 or 2009. While the design that was released in December has been well received, some still feel that there are issues to be worked out, such as how the spire from the original site plan has been integrated into the rest of the building and how the building will look at street level.

Another issue is the lack of a tenant, a rarity for an office building in this stage of development. Besides government officials, no one has expressed interest in moving into the Freedom Tower's 60 floors of offices. But while this might be a more serious concern for a typical skyscraper, the Freedom Tower is unique in another aspect as well - it has a commitment of $2 billion from the federal government.

DECEMBER: Liberty Bond Program Expires

In September 2002, the Liberty Bond Program was established, providing $8 billion in federally funded low interest bonds to encourage the redevelopment in Lower Manhattan. The program is set to expire at the end of 2004. Bills proposing its extension until 2009 will be working their way through Washington as the year progresses. If they fail, it does not look like the full amount will be doled out by the current deadline.

There has been much more interest in using the bonds for housing or commercial development outside of Lower Manhattan than the program currently allows for. $1.6 billion in Liberty Bonds have been set aside for housing in Lower Manhattan, and $2 billion for large commercial developments elsewhere in the city. A bill extending Liberty Bonds is likely to redesign the program to allocate more money for housing. But spreading the bonds more evenly throughout the city has met resistance - grants for a power plant in Astoria and a Bank of America building in midtown have been criticized.

For more about economic issues related to rebuilding, go to Rebuilding NYC's economic rebuilding topic page.

DECEMBER: Downtown

By the end of 2004, 50 acres of public space south of Houston Street will either be created or renovated, using $25 million in Lower Manhattan Development Corporation grants. The first of these spaces is complete - Drumgoole Plaza near Pace University opened in November, 2003. By the end of this spring, 6 more spaces will be completed, and 6 more will be done by the end of 2004 - a total of 13 new or revamped parks.

Physically, much has already changed downtown. A new PATH station and a footbridge crossing West Street at Vesey Street opened in late November 2003, reconnecting Ground Zero to areas that were severed from the World Trade Center site on 9/11. Work began on repairing two major transformers that helped provide electricity to Lower Manhattan before 9/11. Starting in August 2004, they will be operational again. Also last year, Millennium High School opened on Broad Street, and the Solaire, the world's first "green" residential high-rise opened at Battery Park City, partially funded by federal Liberty Bonds designed to encourage development in Lower Manhattan.

2001 - 2015

Phase one - in which the memorial, the Freedom Tower, and the transportation hub are to be completed - will end by 2009. From there, the rest of the buildings on Ground Zero will be completed over six years, creating an additional 7.2 million square feet of office space at the site. By providing construction and other jobs, rebuilding the World Trade Center site will provide as much as $15.4 billion to the city's economic output by 2015, when all construction will be completed, according to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

All the brick and mortar changes that have recently happened or seemed poised to happen are inspiring another change - one in the way people are talking. Ever since 9/11, reports from public and private policy groups have discussed the way that attacks harmed the city's economy, and people were discussing how well the city was coping with aftermath of the attack. Today they are beginning to discuss how events in Lower Manhattan can help New York.


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