One World Trade Center, which rises to a symbolic 1,776 feet.
A serene memorial with reflecting pools in the footprints of what once were the Twin Towers.
The Oculus transportation hub topped by a distinctive winged structure.
The lower Manhattan skyline devastatingly altered 15 years ago by the 9/11 terror attacks has been made anew by a coalition tackling the mandate of rebuilding while remembering.
Private and public entities have poured at least $20 billion into the 16-acre site and produced three shimmering skyscrapers, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, a sleek transit center with shopping, and much more.
New Yorkers and tourists alike pack the area on any given day while the NYPD, Port Authority police and private security guards keep watch.
“We’re not just going to come back, we’re going to come back stronger and build taller and prouder, because of our faith in our country and our freedom,” former Gov. George Pataki told Newsday of what he believes the revitalization has proved.
Pataki — at the helm when the nation was shaken by the loss of nearly 3,000 lives and united behind a vow to forever honor them — said he feels pride at what Ground Zero has become.
Amid controversies about ownership, oversight and design, yearslong construction delays and dramatic budget overruns, there is physical proof of progress.
Three of four planned office towers are effectively finished.
One World Trade Center, laden with reflective glass, punctuates the skyline as the Western hemisphere’s tallest edifice. It cost nearly $4 billion and opened in 2014.
Four World Trade Center opened in 2013 at 977 feet.
Three World Trade Center, to be 1,079 feet tall, was ceremonially topped off in June and is set to open in 2018.
The $1 billion memorial and museum, the $4 billion transit hub with 11 subway lines and PATH access, $50 million Liberty Park and $40 million St. Nicholas National Shrine are also complete or near completion.
But there is work yet to be done all these years later.
Construction stalled several years ago on 2 World Trade Center at the foundation level.
A performing arts center has been designed but not built.
The permanent use of a Liberty Street property called Site 5 hasn’t been determined.
Silverstein Properties executive vice president Jeremy Moss said he is confident the company will find an anchor tenant and financing necessary to move forward on 2 World Trade Center.
Moss, who also directs leasing at Silverstein’s nearby sites, 3, 4 and 7 World Trade Center, said rebuilding and repopulating happen in phases.
“You put it out there, you let people experience it, they start to see the value of it,” he said. “In the meantime, more people are moving in, more amenities are opening up.”
Larry Silverstein, the developer with perhaps the heaviest hand in remaking the neighborhood, noted that the residential population has tripled since the attacks.
“It is a totally changed environment,” he told reporters on Thursday at 7 World Trade Center, where the design for the performing arts center was unveiled. “And it’s a much more successful and attractive place in this city.”
Silverstein opened 7 World Trade Center across the street from the technical boundaries of Ground Zero in 2006 as harbinger of growth to come.
Moss said of witnessing the progress over the years: “This is one of the most remarkable comeback stories I have ever seen or heard in my life.”
The performing arts center will be named for billionaire businessman Ronald Perelman, who donated $75 million to the project in June. The Lower Manhattan Development Corp., a state-city agency created in 2001 to oversee rebuilding, has committed $100 million.
Site 5 is now under the legal control of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and in the process of being transferred to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman.
Once the switch is made, decisions will be made on what to do with the site, he said.
Currently, it houses Port Authority police trailers, he said.
But development corporation president David Emil disputed that a deal has been struck and a transition is imminent.
“The site is not in the process of being transferred,” Emil said. “It is the desire of the community and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to consider residential development at the site.”
A difficult process
Lynne B. Sagalyn, a Columbia Business School professor emerita of real estate and author of “Power at Ground Zero,” described the rebuilding as occurring in “fits and starts.”
“There was no single person calling the shots and there was no structure of governance, so it was chaotic for several years,” she said.
Deal-making in 2010, including an agreement over public financing and subsidies between Port Authority and Silverstein, helped to smooth the way forward.
Sagalyn said she believes the delays were a good thing, allowing for the review of controversial decisions, the inclusion of more voices and the building of political coalitions.
But she called the cost of the site, which she estimated to be $25.5 billion, “undisciplined.” The price tag can be compared to the $14.5 billion Big Dig in Boston and the MTA’s $10.2 billion East Side Access project, she said.
An example of an over-budget project was the transportation hub, which cost twice its original $2 billion estimate.
Developers counting different sets of World Trade Center projects have calculated the total site cost at closer to $20 billion.
Sagalyn said the World Trade Center is on its way.
“There’s been a fundamental shift in the perception of lower Manhattan,” she said. “The politics, it’s done. Now its use will become part of the city, the trauma of it is over.”
Vibrant part of city
Architect Michael Arad agreed on the sense of normalcy that has returned to the area that he sees as knitted into the rest of lower Manhattan.
He looked out over the 9/11 memorial he designed, which is called “Reflecting Absence” and opened in 2011. The 8-acre park features two pools with man-made waterfalls and the names of the dead stencil-cut into bronze parapets.
Arad noted that the trees had grown in and people traverse the memorial en route to other destinations.
“It’s moved from realm of possibility to the realm of reality,” Arad said.
NYPD Commissioner William Bratton called the security at World Trade Center a “constant, evolving process” of threat assessments and collaborating with other agencies, reassuring the public of the site’s safety.
“We’re very comfortable with the security arrangements, the protocols that have been worked out with the Port Authority Police Department, the various federal agencies,” Bratton told reporters.Additionally, a ceremony Friday celebrated the return of federal employees to the complex. About 1,000 workers of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the General Services Administration are based in One World Trade Center.
Manhattan Community Board 1 chairman Anthony Notaro said he believes the mission to remember the dead and rebuild to show resiliency is fulfilled, and people don’t focus on the individual components still unfinished.
“Nothing is perfect, but I think this was a wonderful balance,” he said. “And now it’s up to us to keep the memory alive.”
The horrific day of the attacks and the painful weeks, months and years that followed are still raw to many.
“It sometimes seems like yesterday and sometimes it seems like 50 years ago,” former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told WPIX-TV last week. “But there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about that day.”
Pataki acknowledged that he doesn’t often visit Ground Zero.
“To be honest, I have very mixed emotions when I go there,” he said. “I still have the tremendous sense of loss because of the people I knew who died that day and tremendous sense of sorrow for the families I got to know who lost their husbands or wives, their children or parents that day.”
With Matthew Chayes