Tuesday December 18
03:05 AM EST
Many Visions for WTC Site
By GREG GITTRICH and ERIC HERMAN
In the first days after Sept. 11, it all seemed so simple. In
defiant tones, politicians and planners declared that the twin
towers must be rebuilt. Anything else was unthinkable.
"Our skyline will rise again," Mayor Giuliani vowed.
Developer Larry Silverstein, who controlled the World Trade
Center, vowed to build four shorter,
50-story towers. "We have an obligation to replace
this," Silverstein said three months ago.
But as the impact of the catastrophe sank in, other voices
clamored to be heard. Hesitations arose about rebuilding on a
space many considered to be hallowed ground. One such voice
belonged to Monica Iken. Iken's husband, Michael, died in Tower
2, and his remains have not been recovered. The 31-year-old
widow from Riverdale, the Bronx, has started her own group,
September's Mission, whose goal is "to make sure that we
take that land and turn it into a peaceful sanctuary for our
loved ones," she said. "We need a place to go, because
I don't have any closure. I have nothing," Iken said.
The site of the first battle of what President Bush called the
first war of the 21st century is becoming a battlefield of a
different sort. Already, people are lining up with claims of
controlling what happens there.
They include Silverstein and shopping mall giant Westfield, who
hold a 99-year lease on the land; the Port Authority, which owns
the land and wants to rebuild its damaged PATH lines below;
Mayor Giuliani and Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg; Gov. Pataki; the Empire State Development Corp. and
its new subsidiary, the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corp., and
people like Iken who lost family members on Sept. 11. So while
Silverstein has already hired architect David Childs to design
new office buildings, Iken has hired an architect of her own to
come up with designs for a memorial. Like many who lost family
members in the attack, she feels she has some claim to the land.
The Port Authority is the legal owner of the land. Last summer,
the agency turned the twin towers and surrounding buildings over
to Silverstein in history's biggest real estate deal, valued at
$3.2 billion. The arrangement was seen as sweet for both sides:
The Port Authority would no longer have to manage the towers and
was guaranteed yearly lease payments starting at $116 million.
Silverstein and Westfield stood to profit by increasing
efficiency and raising rents.
Push to Rebuild
The players inked the deal at the Trade Center's outdoor plaza
under a burning July sun. Six weeks later, everything
After the attacks, Silverstein, still hard-charging at 70 years
old, hammered on the theme of rebuilding. No one doubted that
his 99-year lease gave him a strong legal claim. The $9 million
monthly rent he is still paying to the Port Authority gives him
the right to rebuild. "It's pretty clear that Silverstein
can rebuild, under our agreement, what was there before,"
said Charles Gargano, the Port Authority's vice chairman who
also heads the Empire State Development Corp. But conflicting
ideas of what to build there quickly emerged.
Silverstein said rebuilding two 110-story office towers was not
"feasible" and broached the idea of four smaller
towers. He later said he also would like to build a performing
arts center, a hotel and condominiums on the site. The necessity
of change has already loosened Silverstein's legal hold on the
property. "If he wants to deviate and change the design,
then he has to get approval from the Port Authority,"
Gargano said. "And obviously, that means he's going to need
Giuliani had his own ideas about what to do with the land,
saying that a memorial to the victims should
"dominate" the 16-acre plot. He also said
Silverstein's development rights could be transferred uptown, to
the far West Side. "If you do something with that site that
draws millions of people here every year to relive, to consider,
to ponder, to think about what happened — the way they've done
at Normandy — you do that right, and you just think of
millions of people coming there," Giuliani said.
Giuliani's views echo those of many of the groups formed by the
families of those killed. Giuliani invoked Normandy. John Lynch,
whose firefighter son was killed, compared the site to
Gettysburg in a Daily News Op-Ed column. Others
mentioned Oklahoma City. Some, like Stephen Push of the Families
of September 11, say building commercial buildings in the exact
spot where the towers stood would be "sacrilegious."
"If our wishes are ignored and if inappropriate things are
done with that property, either out of indifference or
ignorance, then we'll feel victimized a second time, and it's
just not right," Push said. Push said commercial buildings
could be built on some part of the site, as long as it didn't
interfere with the families' wishes. But Sally Regenhard, whose
firefighter son died in the attack, said, "I'm absolutely
categorically opposed about building a commercial building. And
I actually do have a lot of reservations about any type of
Silverstein agreed that there should be a memorial where the
towers stood. "The voices of those who have lost loved ones
are going to be terribly important in whatever is done on the
memorial," he told The News. "We're all going to have
to get together and work on a consensus that each of the
constituencies is happy with," he said.
Consensus Is His Mission
The job of forging a consensus could fall to John Whitehead,
chairman of the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corp., the new
agency charged with rebuilding downtown. At the news conference
announcing his appointment, Whitehead
addressed what he said was the group's priority.
"This is the final resting place for the loved ones of so
many people in the city who need to find a place where they can
visit," he said. "We need a very important memorial of
some sort, be it a park, a chapel, who knows what it should
be. But land must be set aside."
Whitehead said he will appoint advisory boards to help make
decisions about building on the site. Each will represent one of
the "constituencies" with a stake, including victims'
families, people who live in the neighborhood, and business
owners and Wall Street leaders, with the mayor and governor as
That much democracy might not sit well with some of the victims'
families. Stephen Push acknowledged the rights of all those
involved, but said, "The interests of the families of the
deceased trump all those other interests."
Silverstein, in the meantime, is fighting another battle, trying
to win $7 billion in insurance payments that will enable him to
rebuild. "It's not his thing to build anyway he wants, and
we all know that," Gargano said. "There's going to
have to be
consensus, cooperation between many, many people."