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    PA boss: Let's roll! Pledges army of hardhats will send WTC site soaring in 2006

BY PAUL D. COLFORD DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

After four years of planning and squabbling over the future of Ground Zero, 2006 will finally be "the year of the hardhat" at the hallowed site.

"It's going to be a year when people are actually going to start seeing activity," Port Authority Executive Director Kenneth Ringler said during a walk-through of the site. "By the end of 2006, we estimate there will be 1,000 construction workers here," he said.

Five hundred will work on the PATH station, which is being transformed into the Grand Central Terminal of downtown. The other hardhats will be on projects designed to rebuild what's mainly a giant hole in the ground - one that draws hundreds of tourists a day along Church and Liberty Sts.

The PA, which owns the 16 acres, estimates contractors will pour 50,000 cubic yards of concrete this year, some of which will go into fittings for the controversial World Trade Center Memorial, starting in March. Developer Larry Silverstein, whose long-term plans are being challenged by the PA, moved closer last week to a spring start on his 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, set for the northwest corner. He awarded a contract to Petrocelli Electric, which will clear space for the foundation by relocating high-voltage lines and other wires serving PATH.

Another first-quarter project will be the temporary underpinning of the box that encloses the No. 1 subway line, which runs through the Trade Center site and separates its western portion from the not-yet-excavated east side.

Excavation of the east side - bordered by Church St. - will begin at the end of the year. "We have to dig that area out,down to the lowest elevation, so we can put in parking and other structures," including multiple levels of stores the PortAuthority wants to develop, Ringler said.

The surge of activity this year is but a warmup for years of expanding construction at Ground Zero and the surrounding area. Goldman Sachs recently started to build its 43-story headquarters diagonally across West St. from Ground Zero, and construction of the MTA's Fulton St. Transit Center has led to the excavation of Dey St. Meanwhile, Silverstein is closing a deal with a Chinese developer to lease the top five stories of his new 7 World Trade Center, a source told the Daily News. Beijing-based Vantone Real Estate Co., which plans to use roughly 200,000 square feet as a visitor and conference center to promote Chinese businesses in New York, would be the largest leaseholder so far in the 52-story building, which has been slow to attract firms.

"Having an international conference center at 7 World Trade Center is certainly consistent with my vision for downtown," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said.

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