For the first time since 9/11, the public has stepped onto hallowed ground -- walking four stories under 1 World Trade Center into a gleaming white 600-foot corridor of Italian marble that will serve as a transit hub.
The underground tunnel's vaulted ceilings of white steel shaped like wings designed by Santiago Calatrava, along with its subdued natural lighting, allows for a moment of reflection.
"When I first walked in, my mind went back to the pile that was here and I felt the devastation the city was in on September 11th," said Louie Koumoutsos, Port Authority police chief. He had worked rescue and recovery after the attacks that destroyed the Twin Towers.
"This new corridor is an assimilation of that dark day, but with the bright light, there is a resurrection," he said after he walked through the corridor that connects the trade center and the financial center. He took one of six escalators up 46 feet to reach the former World Financial Center, which was once connected to the Twin Towers through a pedestrian bridge.
The building, renamed Brookfield Place, has a glass-enclosed atrium landing where the public is greeted by the "Jewel Box" sculptures of two white interwoven spiral abstracts that face 1 World Trade Center, which reaches 1,776 feet.
The Brookfield Place entrance fans out into the Winter Garden glass-domed atrium of palm trees that overlooks the Hudson River. The famed public space is now undergoing a $250 million renovation that will have new shops and restaurants.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday, Port Authority and Brookfield officials touted the redevelopment of the 16-acre plot, where the Twin Towers once stood, as an international shopping and restaurant spot with 350,000 square feet of commercial space.
"It's just amazing. I love the fact that it is so bright and that the marble is gleaming," said Peter Miller, 63, of Manhattan, who toured the site Thursday afternoon. On 9/11, Miller fled from the Port Authority office on the 65th floor of the South Tower.
"This is a small glimpse as to what the rest of the World Trade Center will look like," he said. "It makes me feel great and proud. I live here and survived 9/11."
"New York is coming back. It's just a gorgeous space," said Mario Wilkowski, 53, of Merrick, who took a walk through before the evening rush hour Thursday. "These are the finishing touches."
The opening of the corridor is the first component to the World Trade Center transportation hub. It will connect New Jersey PATH trains, the city's ferry services and seven MTA subway lines to all five boroughs at the Fulton Street Transit Center.
It is estimated that more than 200,000 daily commuters and millions of annual visitors will use the transportation hub, according to a Port Authority news release.