On a beautiful spring morning, eerily reminiscent of one clear September morn last fall, New York City's former World Trade Center site silently, solemnly and officially passed the torch May 30 from the recovery phase to whatever is to come next.
With poignant understatement, survivors of Sept. 11 gathered quietly at Ground Zero with victims' families and hundreds of construction workers, police, fire and emergency rescue personnel, as well as officials from nearly two dozen city, state, regional and federal agencies. Chosen by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the date had long been known as "Decoration Day," a precursor to the modern Memorial Day.
Four sets of five fire bells signaled the start of a somber, 20-minute service at 10:29 AM, EST, the same time that the last of the 110-story Twin Towers had collapsed in flames Sept. 11, succumbing like its twin to the violent puncture of a hijacked airliner. The ensuing fiery catastrophe felled both buildings and consumed 2,823 lives, from which only 1,102 bodies were recovered. In a gruesome subset, the city said over 20,000 body parts had been found on the site.
Last month, rescue workers honored those fallen but not found, symbolically carrying an empty stretcher to a waiting ambulance. The final, 58-ton steel column — once marked simply #1001B of 2WTC, but now covered with spray-painted tributes — was draped in black muslin, flowers and an American flag, then lifted onto a flatbed truck.
As police bag-pipers played "America the Beautiful," the truck slowly drove the coffin-like cargo up a 500-ft. inclined ramp leading out of the "pit" area. Making no speeches, Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New York Gov. George Pataki all looked on, as two buglers then played taps to bring the grim ceremony to a close. At that point, spontaneous cheers rose to commend those present, often punctuated with emotional chants of "U.S.A., U.S.A."
"The recovery effort... has made us all proud," said Mayor Bloomberg, in a statement released after the event. "Construction workers completed the removal of debris at a fraction of the cost and in half the time originally estimated."
Indeed, initial projections for the mammoth cleanup of what is ostensibly a 16-acre crime scene had ranged from one to two years, at a cost of up to $2 billion. But the NYC Dept. of Design and Construction (DDC) managed the effort expertly, dividing the site into four quadrants and awarding each to a local team. Respective groups led by AMEC Construction Management Inc., Bovis Lend Lease, Turner Construction Co. (now based in Dallas, but a former NYC mainstay), Tully Construction, Flushing, N.Y., and DeFoe Corp., Mt. Vernon, N.Y., combined to remove 1.8 million tons of debris in 261 days, all for less than $750 million. To date, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved $687 million in Sept. 11-related aid for the city.
Anxious to move forward, but with sensitivity, the city last month also took its first tangible steps toward remaking Ground Zero. On May 22, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. jointly awarded a $3 million urban planning contract to a local team led by architect Beyer Blinder Belle and backed by transit expert Parsons Brinckerhoff.
The next day, the group held its first public hearing to solicit input on how the WTC site should be redeveloped and its Sept. 11 victims properly memorialized.
Meanwhile, WTC owner Larry Silverstein announced that site work would start this month on a replacement for his 7 World Trade Center, an adjacent 47-story tower that also fell Sept. 11. The NYC office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP, Chicago, is his architect.