Critique of Freedom Tower Leads to Redesign

The Freedom Tower, which will be built at the World Trade Center site in New York City, is being completely redesigned. Wednesday's announcement follows weeks of criticism over building and security plans. Andrea Bernstein of member station WNYC reports.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

While police in New York City investigate two small explosions in front of the British Consulate, they have already come to a conclusion about the security of another building, the Freedom Tower. That's the proposed replacement for the fallen twin towers at the World Trade Center site. It will now be redesigned completely because the police department is concerned about safety. New York City officials announced yesterday that the new tower will still rise 1,776 feet into the New York skyline. Everything else is being reconsidered, including its location. Andrea Bernstein of member station WNYC reports.

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ANDREA BERNSTEIN reporting:

Ten months ago, New York Governor George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, developer Larry Silverstein, choirs and bagpipers joined for a ceremony at ground zero. For Governor Pataki, the event was a shining achievement.

Governor GEORGE PATAKI (New York): Today we lay the cornerstone for a new symbol of this city and of this country and of our resolve to triumph in the face of terror. Today we build the Freedom Tower.

BERNSTEIN: But the cornerstone laid that day was for a building that will little resemble the published designs. The bonhomie quickly dissipated in a torrent of acrimony and blame that has recently become public.

Mr. SHELDON SILVER (Assembly Speaker): All we've gotten was announcements; all we've gotten is patriotic speeches. We never got action.

BERNSTEIN: That's Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents Lower Manhattan. Silver, a Democrat, has long complained that New York's Republican mayor and governor have paid too little attention to rebuilding Lower Manhattan and too much attention to building a new football stadium.

Mr. SILVER: They're coordinated on the West Side of Manhattan. They sing the song of the New York Jets every day, but they can't get together and rebuild downtown Manhattan bigger and better than ever.

BERNSTEIN: The mayor and the governor pooh-pooh this criticism and say they've been piloting several projects at once. But the business community is expressing a lack of confidence. The privately rebuilt number 7 World Trade Center, just north of ground zero, is almost complete, but it's failed to attract any tenants. Last month, Goldman Sachs, citing concerns about the pace of redevelopment in the area, put its plans to erect a new tower on hold. Then word emerged that NYPD security concerns might force builders to move the Freedom Tower far from the adjacent West Side Highway. Redevelopment officials blame the NYPD for raising its concerns too late, but the NYPD says the officials didn't take them seriously early on. Governor Pataki says there's no reason to worry.

Gov. PATAKI: As you go from concept to construction, there are engineering questions, there are fiscal questions, there are security questions. There are other technological questions as you go forward.

BERNSTEIN: There was public applause for yesterday's announcement of a redesign, but privately, many players in the rebuilding process are still sounding pessimistic. The master planner has blamed the developer. The developer has blamed the master planner, and the NYPD has blamed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the Trade Center land. Paul Goldberger, author of "Up From Zero," says all this shows when it comes to developing Manhattan, 9/11 didn't really change everything.

Mr. PAUL GOLDBERGER (Author, "Up From Zero"): Things in the rebuilding process began very differently with a lot of high ideals and high hopes that we would be operating in a whole different set of values and parameters. And then it got more and more ordinary.

BERNSTEIN: For now, officials are moving forward with plans for the memorial and the commuter train station. As for the Freedom Tower, no one expects steel to arrive for at least a year. The cornerstone, however, remains on display at ground zero. For NPR News, I'm Andrea Bernstein, in New York.

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