Rebuilding the WTC

As cleanup and recovery at Ground Zero near completion, you still have to squint -- or dream -- to envision what eventually will become of the world's most famous 16 acres. 

But you can see this much: Whatever is built on the site of the World Trade Center will not resemble the colossus it replaces, nor make a mark on the skyline, nor assume final shape for at least a decade.

Today, the agency created to supervise the redevelopment is scheduled to announce its process for developing plans. Meanwhile, many of the interested parties -- elected officials, city planners, business leaders, property owners, community groups and victims' relatives -- have begun to agree on a rough outline of what should happen.

The site, which could be cleared next month, probably will have a mixture of not-too-tall office buildings, apartment houses, street-level stores, a museum or theater or both, a park and a memorial to the nearly 3,000 people killed here Sept. 11.

The redevelopment program remains vague, which has prompted complaints in this notably impatient city. In an editorial last week, The New York Times bemoaned ''a lack of focus'' by the agency created by the state and city, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., to oversee the rebuilding.

Others say the project is so large, the attendant feelings so raw, and the interested parties so many that speed would only produce proposals that would founder on politics or litigation.

''This is the most emotionally charged city planning issue I've ever seen,'' says Robert Yaro, director of the Regional Plan Association. ''It's one of the most ambitious public works projects in American history, and the future of the nation's third-largest business district is at stake. You can't rush it.''

It took five years, he points out, to create a memorial to those who died in the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995.

More than 30 years ago, the World Trade Center was imposed on the city by a small group of planners backed by a powerful patron, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. The seven buildings making up the center flooded the area with 13.5 million square feet of office space, destroyed the neighborhood on the site and cut off part of Lower Manhattan from the rest of the city.

The World Trade Center, with tens of thousands of workers, went on to become a global landmark, but virtually no one wants anything like it again.

Whatever gets built on the site probably will incorporate several ideas that seem to have broad support, according to people close to the planning process:

     * No new twin towers.

After the 110-story towers fell, some urged rebuilding them as a rebuff to terrorists. Now that view is virtually dead among decisionmakers.

''The way to fight terrorism is not to rebuild big, but to rebuild better,'' says Bruce Fowle, a New York architect who helped write an influential report on the subject. ''You want to create a better place than the one you had.''

That suggests a site that is much less densely developed. It would have only two-thirds or half of the Trade Center's total floor space, according to Richard T. Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress, a trade group.

Larry Silverstein, the landlord who leases the Trade Center site from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has said he favors building four towers of 50 stories each.

But to make an impression on the skyline -- to have something people can point to from afar as having replaced the twin towers -- a building would have to rise at least 75 stories.

That seems unlikely any time soon. Lower Manhattan now has about 14 million square feet of vacant office space. And companies displaced on Sept. 11 have moved about 17,000 jobs to New Jersey.

     * Groundbreaking at 7 WTC.

Silverstein says he will break ground this year for an office building just north of Ground Zero, on part of the site where the 47-story 7 World Trade Center stood. That building collapsed about eight hours after the twin towers.

The new building reportedly will rise 700 feet -- the exact number of stories has not been revealed -- but that would not even make it among the five tallest buildings in Lower Manhattan.

However, it would give officials a building to point to while they figure out what to do with the 16 acres to the south.

     * A memorial, but not all memorial.

The Sept. 11 memorial apparently will not occupy the entire site, as proposed by some victims' relatives and former mayor Rudy Giuliani. But there is a growing sentiment that the actual footprint of the twin towers -- about one-eighth of the site -- is sacred ground and should be part of a memorial.

When the overall master plan for the site is ready this year, there probably will be an international competition to design the memorial.

     * Through streets.

The street grid that the Trade Center's elevated plaza obliterated in the 1970s probably will be restored to allow traffic into and through the site. West Street, a wide boulevard that forms the western boundary, would be submerged into a tunnel, creating additional surface space.

     * A mass-transit hub.

Subway lines would be reconfigured, and moving walkways would make it easier to move among ferries, the city subway and the subway line to New Jersey. This would take four to five years and cost several billion dollars.


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