New York City is once again home to the nation's tallest building -- the almost-completed World Trade Center tower at a symbolic height of 1,776 feet.
The bragging rights became official Tuesday after an international panel of architects held that the 408-foot needle atop 1 World Trade Center is a permanent spire, not just an antenna.
Counting the spire, the Height Committee of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat determined that the Ground Zero skyscraper is 325 feet taller than Chicago's Willis Tower, formerly known as Sears Tower.
The committee's 25 voting members -- architects, engineers and contractors from 13 countries -- voted unanimously in favor of 1 WTC.
Anthony Wood, the council's executive director, said the tower with its beacon-topped needle doubles as a monument to those killed in the 9/11 attacks.
"This was a quest to put something meaningful and symbolic on that site because of the horrible history of what happened on that site," he said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the decision "another step forward in lower Manhattan's incredible comeback."
The distinction should lure even more visitors to the city, said Navtej Sandhu, 27, an Upper East Side accountant whose father once worked in the Twin Towers.
"Anytime you say New York has the tallest building in the U.S., it brings more attention to lower Manhattan," he said.
"It's a good feeling, for a New Yorker, to know we have the tallest building in the greatest city in the world," said Kassims "Bobby" Haralambos, who operates a hot dog stand in the shadow of the tower.
But the council's decision drew a rebuke from the mayor of the Windy City.
If 1 World Trade Center's spire looks and acts like an antenna, "then, guess what? It's an antenna," said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The committee convened last week in Chicago, home of the world's first skyscraper in 1884.
The closed-door meeting was emotional, but "there was nothing unusual about how we measured" 1 WTC, said Timothy Johnson, the council's chairman and a partner at NBBJ, a Manhattan design firm.
The Willis Tower is 1,729 feet tall but reaches that height with a 278-foot antenna that was not part of the original design.
Some survivors of 9/11 and relatives of victims said the new World Trade Center tower's new status pales in comparison to the well-being of the tenants and visitors who will come to the building when it opens sometime next year.
"It doesn't matter to me who has the tallest building, as long as the building is safe," said Bill Doyle, the father of Joseph Doyle, a Cantor Fitzgerald employee who died in the attacks.
With Maria Alvarez
and Sheila Anne Feeney