New York Places Column for Freedom Tower

The first steel column for the new Freedom Tower is being installed today at Ground Zero in New York City.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In New York City, a visible sign of progress today in the rebuilding of Ground Zero. The first steel columns for the new Freedom Tower were set in place. The office building will eventually rise to 1776 feet, making it the tallest in the country.

But as NPR's Robert Smith reports, it has taken a long time to get off the ground.

ROBERT SMITH: Although it only took a few minutes to fix the white steel beam into place, the journey took five years. Five years of excavation, recovery and mourning after the terrorist attacks. Five years of bickering politicians, protesting families, feuding architects, engineering missteps and lawsuits. So you can forgive New York Governor George Pataki a moment of relief.

Governor GEORGE PATAKI (New York): Today the steel rises, the Freedom Tower rises from the ashes of September 11, and the people of New York and the people of America can be proud.

SMITH: So hungry have people been for a symbol of vertical progress that these first steel columns have taken on an almost mystical significance. The governor traveled to the plant in Virginia where they were fabricated. Two of the steel beams have been covered in scrawled messages from politicians and families who lost loved ones on September 11.

Brian Lion, superintendent at the site, signed the steel in the name of his firefighter brother who was killed in the World Trade Center.

Mr. BRIAN LION (Superintendent, Freedom Tower site): I was here for the last beam that we took down from the recovery. I watched it leave the site and I was here the day the truck rolled down with that first beam. I'm very happy to see that first beam go up there today, you know.

SMITH: Right next to the foundation of the Freedom Tower, workers are already preparing the ground for the proposed memorial for September 11 that will cover the original footprints of the Twin Towers. But there are still major unresolved questions at the site. Nobody is sure where they're going to find the $500 million to pay for the proposed memorial. And it's unclear if there are enough companies that are willing to fill the millions of square feet of new office space.

Governor Pataki leaves office in 12 days. So the responsibility will be left to his successor, Elaine Spitzer. Pataki has made it clear that he didn't want to finish his term with Ground Zero just a hole in the ground. And he got his wish. Now it's a hole with three steel beams sticking out. Thirty-one feet high, 1745 feet to go.

Robert Smith, NPR News. New York.

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