Six Months Later
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Six Months Later

11 March 02

Out the window on the 38th floor, Michael McMahon has a clear view of the 16-acre crater that everyone now calls Ground Zero, and he can hear the constant groan of the cranes and the trucks. Much has changed in the six months since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center created this eerie view. Rescue workers have recovered a total of 712 bodies (out of the 2,830 now believed to have been killed) and an astonishing 1.4 million tons of rubble have been removed, one truckload at a time.

But the biggest change may be clearer on the other side of McMahon's window. He looks out from the Marriott Financial Center Hotel, one of several businesses near Ground Zero that have reopened for business. And business at the hotel is not bad.

"Some people specifically request the rooms with a view," says McMahon, a hotel manager. "And some people specifically request that they do not have a view. We try to balance the needs of the guests who are here for different reasons."

Some guests are there to pay their respects; some are, like the guests before September 11th, simply there on business; and some have come to participate either in the clean-up, or in the rebuilding.

Six months after the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States, New York is at a crossroads -- leaving a recovery that is nearly complete, entering a rebuilding that is soon being planned.

The rubble that has been cleared from the site itself represents more than 80 percent of all that has to be removed, a clean-up that is now expected to be completed ahead of schedule in May. Cars and buses drive up Church Street right along an instant landmark that is no longer hidden behind police barricades and an armed contingent of the National Guard. Seven of the 11 damaged subway stations have reopened, as have all of the schools. Many stores and offices are reopening as well, including not just the Marriott but also the Ritz-Carlton and the Century 21 department store; the World Financial Center, right on the edge of Ground Zero, is scheduled to reopen in a matter of weeks.

"The progress that has been made," Governor George Pataki said last week, "is probably more than anyone could have anticipated on the afternoon of September 11."

But the next phase -- the rebuilding -- promises to be a long and complicated process. There are still many unanswered questions.

Many of these questions will take months or years to resolve. John Whitehead, the head of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the newly created agency that will oversee the rebuilding efforts, estimates it will take 10 years or more.

"You have to remember that the World Trade Center was conceived in 1960, ground was broken in 1967, and it was not completed until 1976," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

This time, many New Yorkers are fighting to have a say in how it will be rebuilt.

IS THE ENVIRONMENT SAFE?

Six months after the cloud of dust and debris covered lower Manhattan, it is still unclear what lingering effects the collapse of the towers will have on the health of residents and workers downtown.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency and the city Department of Health claim that the levels of lead, asbestos, and other toxic materials in the outdoor air downtown are within safe limits.

"You cannot go downtown without tripping over an air quality meter," said Mayor Bloomberg at a recent press conference. "And there is no evidence that the air quality is [worse than] baseline, which means how it was on September 10."

However, some critics have charged that business and government have been too quick to assure people that conditions downtown are safe. Independent studies by the University of California at Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey have compared the air quality after the attacks to that following "the Kuwaiti oil fires" and have found the air to be "as caustic as liquid drain cleaner." Over 200 firefighters working at the trade center site have reported respiratory problems. The Natural Resource Defense Council issued a report estimating that at least 10,000 New Yorkers living or working downtown have suffered short-term health effects since September 11.

Given the unprecedented nature of the disaster, some critics allege that the government simply did not test for certain hazards. For example, the government tested for large particles of asbestos and said they were at safe levels. However, the explosions on September 11 produced small particles that the government did not seek out and which some experts say could prove dangerous.

While there may be some dispute about the outdoor air quality measurements, there is virtually total uncertainty about air quality indoors. This is at least partly because no one had responsibility for testing the air inside most homes and offices. In some of the buildings that were tested, such as schools, problems have been detected. Even after it was cleaned, for example, P.S. 39 on Warren Street was found to have fiberglass levels four time the federal limit for spaces used by children.

Residents and workers in the area have not received clear, credible instructions about what they should do to protect their health. While the Environmental Protection Agency told New Yorkers to go over their apartments and offices with a wet rag, the agency itself hired a professional cleaning service to clean their offices. Other people have thrown away many of their possessions, fearing that dangerous substances may be trapped within them.

Apparently in response to the confusion and concern, the city last week established a Lower Manhattan Air Quality Task Force. Starting March 11, the task force is operating a telephone hotline (212-221-8635) to answer questions about quality of the air - indoors and outdoors. It will also review test results and provide information to the public. And, according to Senator Hillary Clinton, the Environmental Protection Agency has said it will establish a group to look into the indoor air quality downtown.

THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF 9/11

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered his city budget address in mid-February, he displayed a graph that tracked city job growth over the past six years and projected into the future. The line on the graph rose steeply until it hit a point in the middle, marked 9/11, then dropped off a cliff. The city lost over 136,000 jobs since the terrorist attacks, the mayor said, and they would not be recovered until the year 2006. The New York City Partnership estimated that the disaster will cost the New York City economy some $83 billion.

As the rest of the nation shows signs of coming out of the recession, it remains unclear how soon New York, which has been hit so much harder, can rebound.

The property taxes from the World Trade Center itself generated $2.8 million dollars a year in revenue for the city that was instantly lost. But the mayor's office estimated that the total loss of tax revenue from the attack -- from lost taxes on property, income, and sales -- would amount to some $750 million in 2002 and $1.3 billion in 2003. According to a report by the city comptroller, New York's hotels had their worst holiday season in a decade last year, making $1.3 million less in business between October and January than the same period the year before.

With Wall Street profits dropping to $8 billion in 2001 from $21 billion in 2000, the city has scaled back plans for a 900-foot skyscraper that would have housed a new New York Stock Exchange building. Many wonder if lower Manhattan will remain the financial center it once indisputably was.

At this point, no one has a solid assessment of how many businesses have left the city since the attacks, and how many are committed to stay in New York. Marsh and McLennan, a financial services corporation that once housed 1,900 employees in the World Trade Center, is planning to move many of those jobs to Hoboken. On the other hand, companies like Merrill Lynch and Euro Brokers, that dispersed their employees to different locations after the attacks, have now decided to move them back into lower Manhattan. American Express will soon move all of its 3,500 employees into the World Financial Center.

But it is small businesses, particularly in lower Manhattan, that are suffering the most. According to a survey by the Downtown Alliance, one in five retail businesses in the disaster area could not pay their rent in January. Last week, Century 21, the famed retailer of discounted designer goods, reopened its flagship store, just steps from the devastation of Ground Zero. Nearby businesses, which are doing less than half the business they did before September 11, hope more such openings will bring more people into the area and give their establishments a boost as well.

WHAT SHOULD BE BUILT AT GROUND ZERO?

Almost every issue involved in rebuilding downtown remains unresolved. The area has become a not-so-blank canvas on which everyone wants to paint his or her vision of the new urban future.

"It is an opportunity to rethink our cities," says Jonathan Rose of the Congress for the New Urbanism, which promotes a compact, pedestrian-friendly design. "Rarely have we had a large site, where people accept density, that has world recognition, at the center of so much transit. It's almost like we have a chance to look at what we did wrong with urban renewal in the 1960s and do it right this time."

Certainly ambitious plans and ideas abound. Many envision a vibrant 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week community with businesses, homes and cultural institutions, all within easy access of an improved transportation system. Rebuild Downtown Our Town, a coalition of Lower Manhattan residents, businesses and professionals, and New York New Visions, a coalition of architects, planners and designers, have put forth plans for a mixed-use, mixed-income district, with connections to local and regional transportation and state-of-the-art communications systems.

Transportation advocates foresee new ferry terminals, links to commuter trains and an improved subway station at Battery Park. Franck Lohsen McCrery Architects, along with Scottish sculptor Alexander Stoddart have proposed a project they call Liberty Square whose centerpiece would be the tallest building in the world. It and nine other skyscrapers would surround a memorial square and monuments.

The Civic Alliance foresees a dense mixed use project on the trade center site -- but no extreme high rise buildings. And the New York City Opera, Joyce Theater and other cultural institutions have begun discussing a possible arts complex on the site.

Meanwhile, the families of many victims argue that the entire 16-acre area should be a memorial. Although this position appears to have been rejected by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki, it did get a boost from former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in his final days in office.

As discussions about all this continue, many involved in planning the future of downtown worry that Larry Silverstein, the real estate developer who held the lease on the trade center, could undercut all their plans. Silverstein has said he hopes to begin building on the site of 7 World Trade Center, just north of the main complex, by June. The planned building would be 1.6 million square feet and would allow Greenwich Street to pass through the site. Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg both said work should not begin at 7 World Trade Center until there is an overall plan for downtown.

Immediately after the attacks, Silverstein said he would rebuild the towers, but he has since scaled back his plans. In December, he said he hoped to build several office buildings on site, some of which could be as high as 65 stories, and include a museum, performing arts center and a memorial.

While politicians, business leaders, community residents, planners and architects discuss grandiose plans for the future, progress continues to be made. A temporary roadway will lead to the Battery Park Tunnel in about two months, and a pedestrian bridge will soon cross West Street linking Battery Park City to subway stations.

THE MEMORIAL - TEMPORARY AND PERMANENT

Two temporary memorials opening March 11 mark the first steps in the most sensitive part of the rebuilding process: designing and building a memorial to those who died in the terrorist attack on New York.

At dusk on March 11 the "Tribute of Light," will be illuminated. The two square beams of light will pierce the sky from sunset to 11 p.m. until April 13 and will be visible within a 20-mile radius.

The other memorial, "The Sphere," at Battery Park features a bronze sculpture by Fritz Koenig that once stood on the World Trade Center plaza. The sculpture was recovered from the debris and placed in a hangar at Kennedy airport. Now, framed by trees and benches, it will serve as a temporary memorial until a more permanent one can be designed and built.

Creating a permanent memorial is likely to take a long time. Some families of victims believe the entire World Trade Center site should be a memorial and fear this idea could be stampeded in the rush to build something downtown. Other groups such as the Civic Alliance "believe that the best monument honoring those who died at the trade center would be the reconstruction of the area as a beautiful and livable new district of the city and a revitalized center of the regional economy." In the end, many think the memorial may well be limited to the exact spot where the towers once stood, the so-called "footprints" of the buildings, which cover less than half the site.

Then there is the issue of who should make a decision on the memorial. Mayor Bloomberg, Lower Manhattan Development Committee chair John Whitehead and Governor Pataki have all said the families need to have a major voice. Whitehead and Bloomberg have endorsed holding a design competition, as was done in Oklahoma City after the bombing of the federal building there.

"We can't just go on as we are, saying people should put out whatever designs they want and hopefully one of them will resonate with someone," said Fredric Bell, of New York New Visions, a coalition of architecture, planning and design groups. "Some formalized process needs to be put together, and it should happen immediately." A committee to oversee the memorial will not be designated until later this year.

There is no shortage of ideas. Some 35 design proposals have been displayed at the Max Protetch Gallery in Manhattan. One by the late Samuel Mockbee, an architect, envisions two towers spiraling down to a deep pit with a reflecting pool and museum at the bottom. Other people have proposed a field of tulips or a memorial quilt. A number of designers think a park would be most appropriate. One, the New York design firm SITE, suggests that a forest of evergreens -- one for each uniformed rescue worker who died -- be planted where the towers once stood. Several Wall Street companies look favorably on a 20-foot bronze sculpture by J. Seward Johnson depicting rescue workers climbing a staircase as civilians descend. Another proposal calls for two piers, each the length of the twin towers, extending into the Hudson near where the Trade Center once stood.

At this stage no one can predict which, if any, of these ideas might eventually mark the tragedy of September 11. After all, when a competition was held to select a memorial for the Vietnam War, could anyone have guessed in advance that it would be won by a 21-year-old architecture student who designed a black wall engraved with the names of the dead?

WHO IS IN CHARGE OF REBUILDING?

At the end of November 2001, Governor Pataki and Mayor Giuliani established the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation as the primary governing body to oversee the rebuilding efforts. The former mayor appointed four of the members, and the governor named seven, including John Whitehead, an investment banker and deputy of state, who he made head of the corporation. It was recently announced that Mayor Bloomberg will appoint three more people, bringing the total number of corporation members to 14.

Modeled after the city and state partnerships that oversaw the redevelopment of Times Square, the development corporation is charged with overseeing all aspects of rebuilding south of Houston Street. It will also serve as primary vehicle for spending the federal aid and has legal power to condemn property and override the city's zoning regulations.

Shortly after being formed, the corporation came under criticism for being heavy with business and Wall Street representatives, lacking racial and ethnic diversity, and including only one member who actually lives in lower Manhattan. In response, the development corporation created seven advisory councils to hear concerns from victims families, residents, small-business owners, transportation experts, developers, and financial firms.

State and local elected officials also complained that they were left out of the process. Members of the New York State Senate, miffed over being excluded, created their own oversight panel. City Councilmember James Sanders Jr., chairman of the City Council Committee on Economic Development, complained that "the current elected leadership of New York City had no role in appointing members to the one body charged with developing lower Manhattan."

By the first week of January, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation had $2 billion in federal funds earmarked for its efforts, but no specific plan on how to use it. Corporation member Lou Tomson said the board would come up with a set of goals by late May, and its newly hired planner, Alexander Garvin, a former city planning commissioner and teacher at Yale University, will then "translate those goals into various plans."

There are, however, many unanswered questions about the power of the corporation. The group also has no jurisdiction over the Port Authority. And Larry Silverstein, who holds the lease on the site, has said he wants to begin rebuilding 7 World Trade Center this summer. Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki have agreed that construction should not begin until an overall development plan is agreed upon.

WHO ARE THE PLAYERS IN THE REBUILDING EFFORTS?

As the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation tries to figure out how it will rebuild downtown, a number of organization have formed throughout the city to give voice to different groups of people. Among the largest is the Civic Alliance, a broad umbrella group of planning, community and environmental groups with the aim of developing strategies for rebuilding downtown. R.DOT, or Rebuild Downtown Our Town, is another coalition made up of residents and businesses based downtown. These coalitions, along with New York New Visions and New York City Partnership, share a general consensus view of what should be built, proposing a mix of residential housing, retail and office space, and a memorial.

Despite these groups' efforts, one person may be more influential than all of them put together: Larry Silverstein. He holds the lease on the World Trade Center, and six months after September 11, it is still unclear whether or not anyone can prevent him from building whatever he wishes on the site.

Probably the most vocal and public group in the rebuilding process are the relatives of those killed on September 11. Organizations representing these families, including Give Your Voice and September Mission, have become a potent political force as they push to make their own plans part of the rebuilding dialogue. Like Larry Silverstein, these groups often do not endorse the proposals advanced by the civic coalitions. Many of the family groups hope to make the entire 16-acre site a memorial.

WHO WILL PAY?

Until public officials, businesses and others determine what will be built in lower Manhattan, the cost of rebuilding remains unknown. But estimates for the cost of cleaning up and rebuilding downtown have ranged as high as $60 billion.

The federal government and insurance companies will pay tens of billions of this.

The federal money falls into two categories - grants to the families of the victims, and aid to the city and its businesses.

Some $7 billion will go directly to families of victims of September 11. This is an average of $1.85 million per family, many but not all of whom live in the New York City area.

Shortly after the disaster, President George W. Bush pledged $20 billion in aid for New York City in general. Until last week, according to Ronnie Lowenstein, director of the Independent Budget Office, Washington officially had approved only $11.6 billion, some three-quarters of which would go for cleaning up, security, and antiterrorism measures, with the balance for rebuilding.

City officials worried that Bush might try to back out of providing the full $20 billion that he promised, with his pledge vulnerable to opposition in Congress, the financial demands of the war in Afghanistan and the slumping economy. Indeed, budget director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. fueled these fears when he said the $7 billion going to families of victims of the trade center attacks would count as part of that $20 billion. And he said that local politicians had "treated this as a little money-grubbing game."

The statement backfired. "When Mitch Daniels shot his mouth off and called us money- grubbers, he really forced the issue and forced the administration to really produce," Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat from Manhattan, told the Times, which added that the president's image and the Republican governor's chances for re-election became at stake. On March 8, President Bush invited top New York City officials to the White House and promised that he would provide the city with the full $20 billion he had promised, and $1.5 billion on top of that, and that this $21.5 billion was to be in addition to the amount the families of the victims were getting. Of the $10.5 billion he detailed last week, $5.5 billion of it, he said, would be in direct aid, more than half of which would be funneled through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for cleanup.

Another $5 billion, the so-called Liberty Zone program to encourage businesses to remain in Lower Manhattan, will go to companies in the form of tax credits and other incentives. Some Democrats objected to such a large portion of the package being in the form of tax credits, but most New York officials applauded the president's action.

Congress must still approve the $10.5 billion. The House has already passed the tax incentives as part of a larger economic stimulus package.

Private insurance companies will pay out the largest Amount of money. Estimates vary but the latest report by the New York City Partnership says that insurable losses (including property and life) from September 11 could go as high as $52 billion, though many will not be paid for years - if ever. An insurance company group estimated last year insurance companies will probably pay out some $30 billion.

Developer Silverstein will get billions of that but the question of how many billions could be tied up in court for years. Silverstein argues that the trade center attack was actually two separate incidents because two different planes were involved. The insurers argue that a single attack created the devastation. What seems like an arcane argument has become a high stakes legal battle because the insurance policies set a cap on how much a person can collect for any single incident; Silverstein gets about $3.6 billion if it was one attack and $7.2 billion if it was two.

But as huge as the sums of money involved are, they will not make the city whole for all the damages, some of which (such as some job losses and business shortfalls) will not be included in "rebuilding." The New York City Partnership has estimated that, after the payment of insurance claims and the federal aid, the New York City economy could still find itself $16 billion short as both a direct and indirect result of the terrorist attack.

CHARITY

Deciding how to distribute millions of dollars in charity to the families of September 11th victims has been the most delicate debate of the attack's aftermath.

Former Mayor Giuliani settled one of the thornier issues when he agreed to distribute the remaining $100 million of his private Twin Towers Fund within 60 days of the transfer of funds from the public charity of the same name. The money will go to the families of the 430 rescue workers killed on September 11th. While the fund has already distributed $48 million, Giuliani had planned on waiting, perhaps up to several years, so he could distribute the money in the most equitable manner possible. He told the Times this would fulfill his "sacred obligation" to the victims' families. Giuliani decided speed trumped absolute fairness under the threat of a lawsuit from "The Widows" political lobby.

As of March 6, the September 11th Fund created by the United Way and the New York Community Trust, the largest of the charities, said it had distributed $205 million. The fund says it will set aside $250 million for future needs arising from the terrorist attacks, such as counseling, job training, health care and other programs for people affected by the attacks.

The Red Cross has extended a year of financial aid to the families of September 11 victims. The Red Cross, along with Safe Horizons and the Salvation Army, is also assisting those who worked below Canal Street and lost their jobs in the wake of the attacks. March 8 was the last day applications were accepted by all three organizations.

VIEW AND VIEWERS AT GROUND ZERO

When Michael McMahon, the manager at the Marriott Financial Center Hotel, finally gained access to the hotel a week after September 11, he said the scene looked like a "nuclear holocaust." Ninety rooms were damaged and the hotel was full of dust and debris. The gift shop had been looted. And for a few weeks, the American Red Cross used it as a place for rescue workers to eat and sleep.

Today, the lobby is pristine, the new hotel bar called 85 West Street has undergone a $1 million renovation, and given the circumstances, business is relatively good - down just 20 percent from the same time last year.

"We were holding our breath for a while wondering if our business customers would really return," said McMahon. Since the hotel reopened on January 7, they have. The majority of the 470 available rooms are filled with business travelers working on Wall Street or in midtown. As more companies return to the area, McMahon hopes business will get even better.

The Marriott also serves people who have come as a result of the tragedy. Roughly 15 percent of the guests are insurance adjusters, employees of government agencies, or workers somehow involved in the clean-up efforts. And many of the guests, especially on the weekend, are tourists who include as part of their sightseeing a trip to see Ground Zero.

The crowds created such congestion that the city built a viewing platform on Fulton Street, then began issuing tickets, limiting each visitor to 15 minutes. Before September 11, an estimated 200,000 people passed through the World Trade Center every day, and 26,000 people daily visited the observation deck. Whatever is eventually built at the World Trade Center site, it will likely have to accommodate many more.