Steven Matza, left, shows Mark Forman a replica of one of Nikola Tesla's...

Steven Matza, left, shows Mark Forman a replica of one of Nikola Tesla's electrical inventions Thursday during the groundbreaking for a $20 million project at Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

On the Shoreham property where Nikola Tesla built a 187-foot wireless communication tower more than a century ago, officials broke ground Thursday on a $20 million redevelopment of the property aimed at telling the story of the visionary inventor's work.

More than 100 officials and guests celebrated at Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe under gray skies as a sound system blasted songs including AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" in honor of the man whose work with alternating current dynamos and transformers foreshadowed radios and Wi-Fi.

Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado joined a host of elected officials and project organizers in pitching gold shovels into a mound of dirt to signify the start of construction.

The first part of the project will be a $4.5 million visitors center, which will be joined by a separate museum, science labs and a business incubator on the grounds of Tesla's only known surviving laboratory, officials said.

Empire State Development awarded the project $1.25 million and the New York State Council on the Arts awarded another $1.47 million, Delgado announced.

"Nikola Tesla said, 'Let the future tell the truth,' and this will tell the truth about our future and what we value. This new space will continue to inspire generations of change makers," he added.

The ceremony came about a decade after the nonprofit facility purchased the 16-acre site and began raising money for construction.

Tesla Science Center board member Jane Alcorn said the state grants, combined with previous grants and donations, gave the nonprofit about half the funds needed to complete the project.

Prior donations have included $1 million from Tesla Inc. founder Elon Musk and about $1.34 million from a 2012 crowdfunding campaign that 33,000 people in more than 100 countries donated to, Tesla Center officials said.

"We're going to do whatever we can to bring [the lab] back to its former glory," Alcorn declared Thursday.

Very little is left at the site from Tesla's brief tenure in Shoreham. He built the facility between 1901 and 1905, but financial struggles forced him to abandon it in 1906. The tower was torn down in 1917.

As part of the refurbishment, center staff are collecting artifacts from the inventor's life and career from all over the world, officials have said.

The discovery of asbestos, since removed, in the old building delayed construction, Alcorn said.

She added that the nonprofit also removed silver and cadmium that a photo processing lab dumped in the ground while occupying the property after Tesla left.

About 20 satellite buildings at the site will be demolished as part of construction, and the former lab's interior will be restored to resemble its appearance during Tesla's time there, said Mark Thaler, the Albany architect designing the project.

Plans also include recreating a likeness of Tesla's "Dynamo Room," where the inventor displayed his work to visitors. 

"Once they're done, you'll finally be able to see the lab the way Tesla saw it," Thaler said.

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