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Ground Zero Watch

  1. ground-zero watch
    Freedom Tower Peeks Over Ground-Zero Sidewalks? Oh, the excitement back in January, when Freedom Tower construction finally — five-plus years after the attacks — reached the towering height of eight feet below sidewalk level. The milestone was marked by a festive “Metro” section article in the Times, explaining just where you had to stand, and just how you had to crane your neck, to get a view of this feat of construction. So it’s with even greater exultation that we discovered this picture on Curbed today, which seems to indicate that construction has — are you sitting down? — actually progressed to above ground! Of course, the Curbed boys speculate what we’re seeing is merely a few Portajohns. Perhaps. But, even so, hey, we’ll take what we can get. WTC Chaos Update: Something Rises Above Grade! [Curbed] Earlier: The Freedom Tower Exists for Anyone Who Truly Believes In It
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    9/11 Commemoration: Five Is Enough? City Hall and the 9/11 families are fighting over the site of the upcoming sixth-anniversary commemoration, and the negotiations have now devolved into truly embarrassing haggling. Somehow, each concession manages to sound even more pathetic than the one before. To wit: Today’s Daily News reports that Mayor Bloomberg has backed away from his initial suggestion to move the ceremonies to a nearby park (it’s sort of tough to do it on ground zero itself, given that the thing is a giant construction site); he’s now offering a compromise location with a view of ground zero. The families say they’ll take the matter to federal court on First Amendment grounds if they have to.
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    WTC Insurers Agree to Pay, Only Five-Plus Years Later A mere five years and eight months after September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center’s insurers have finally agreed to pay out Larry Silverstein’s claims. (And you thought the check from when your apartment was robbed took a long time to arrive!) Governor Spitzer announced a settlement yesterday between Silverstein and the seven insurance companies that tried to stiff him. So after all this wrangling, how huge is the gap between the amount Silverstein originally sought and the compromise sum? A measly $130 million — less than 3 percent of the total $4.6 billion the developer will receive. To think that this was one of the main issues slowing down the reconstruction at ground zero is, in instant retrospect, revolting. But both Silverstein and Spitzer put on gentlemanly performances yesterday; Silverstein offered a “very, very deep thank-you.” Another thank-you is probably being muttered by the Port Authority, which will help itself to a chunk of the settlement as a part of its earlier deal with Silverstein. And perhaps by the rest of New York, which might one day actually see something built on the site. WTC Insure War Is Over [NYP]
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    Chase Needs More Cash Last we checked with JPMorgan Chase, the megabank wanted to join the ground-zero scrum by building a 50-story skyscraper on the site of the contaminated Deutsche Bank building. There wasn’t much opposition; in fact, city officials were ecstatic about this major score for the financial district. But there was one catch, as it turns out: It would need to be an even bigger score for Chase. As today’s Times reports, the bank wants the kind of lavish incentive package Goldman Sachs got to build a tower in Battery Park City: $650 million worth of cash grants, tax-free bonds, and a whole buffet of tax breaks. Which left the government in the slightly ridiculous position of explaining how that was then and this is now; Spitzer is not Pataki; and downtown, while it could use a boost, is not exactly a wasteland anymore, either.
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    Chase Wants InThe logistics of the ground-zero revival effort are enough to make one’s head implode, but that’s not stopping JPMorgan Chase from getting into the game. The bank has expressed interest in the Deutsche Bank site, a piece of real estate that’s about to open up with the final dismantling of the grim, toxic colossus. Early plans call for a 50-story tower of comparable dimensions. Whatever Chase builds there is probably bound to be more eye-pleasing than the current black obelisk; the question here, like everywhere else around the ground zero, is whether anything is going to be built at all. For one thing, Chase wants a big, fat incentive package to move its employees south from midtown. For another, to fit in a trading floor, the building will need to “cantilever” (thanks, Times; we’d probably say “partly hang”) over a little park. And that means community boards may be getting involved. Unlike the dome over the transit hub and other semi-scuttled flights of fancy, this one is a deal-breaker: No cantilevering, no trading floor; no trading floor, no dice. Without taking sides, we’ll just say this: Chase execs better pray there are no memorials planned for that park. Chase Is Said to Plan Tower Near 9/11 Site [NYT]
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    Once More Into the Service Road — and Into West Street, TooIn 2002, with the “primary cleanup” of ground zero barely over, the city quickly built and paved a service road connecting the World Trade Center site to West Street. Only gradually, and without much help from the media, it is becoming clear exactly how massive a screwup it was. Since Mayor Bloomberg reordered the search for human remains last October, medical examiners freed 445 “potential” body parts from beneath the road. Finally, after months and months of new grisly discoveries, the city is facing the obvious: A new, large-scale excavation is in order.
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    Still With the Names? Of all the delays, scuffles, and tantrums besetting the ground-zero reconstruction effort, none is as fundamentally embarrassing as the general inability to settle on the order of names for the 9/11 memorial. Last we checked, the families of first responders demanded that the cops and firefighters be separated from the “regular” victims, and the original random placement gave way to a bizarre system wherein civilians would be grouped by employer, without naming the employer. Mayor Bloomberg, who chairs the WTC Memorial Foundation, has long been saying he considers the matter closed; that’s why a recent Spitzer remark suggesting “future discussions” threatened to start the whole ordeal anew. But today some good news: The governor and the mayor had a nice long talk yesterday, and they got their positions in sync. Spitzer now says he subscribes to the foundation’s plan. One would think that would be the last hurdle, but no. Some “family and firefighter groups” are still lobbying for the inclusion of victims’ ages and ranks. Yes, let’s introduce rank into this equation, shall we? Mayor Says Spitzer Now Agrees With Him on Listing of 9/11 Names [NYT] Earlier: 9/11 Name Fight Drags On
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    Now Calatrava’s Transit Hub, Too, Isn’t Quite Working Out as PlannedWe’ve always been partial to Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center transit hub; the building, a kind of spiny origami piece with movable wings, is the most genuinely exciting structure on the site. It’s also the only one that, for a long time, seemed to be getting anywhere. So it’s with a heavy heart that we report the following: The damn thing is suddenly a billion dollars over budget. The projected cost for the hub is now a jaw-dropping $3.4 billion. (And that’s the kind of money, as we learned today, that will buy you about 120 apartment towers in Brooklyn.) The contractors are embarking on a “major value engineering effort” to steer the project back to its original $2.2 billion price-tag. We think we know what that means — dumbed-down form and Plan-B materials — although the builders swear the “overall integrity of the design” will be intact. Screw integrity. Give us the movable wings. $3.4B For WTC Hub a Rail Shock [NYP]
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    The Freedom Tower Exists for Anyone Who Truly Believes in It How starved is the city for any tangible progress at ground zero? Well, consider this bit from today’s Times: Stand on Vesey Street, between Greenwich and Washington Streets. Look through the chain-link fences and over the Jersey barriers. The tops of six columns of the tower’s south perimeter are now visible, sprouting from the depths of ground zero. A seventh column, standing alone nearby, is where the Freedom Tower’s east plaza will be … They are visible from the sidewalk now because a second tier of steel has been added to each column, bringing them up to about 8 feet below street level. That’s right, reporter David Dunlap gives you step-by-step instructions on where to stand, which way to face, and how hard to squint to see the thicket of steel that will eventually become the foundation for the Freedom Tower. Imagine the corks that will pop when the construction actually reaches sidewalk level. What a View to Behold, and It’s Really Something [NYT]
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    More Real, Actual Freedom Tower Progress In 2003, George Pataki expected the superstructure of Freedom Tower to have reached its full 1,776 feet by this September. In 2004, he presided over the cornerstore-laying for the building. And yesterday, finally, the first steel beams were installed there. (How is this different than that other first-things-being-installed ceremony a few weeks ago? We seem to recall that one involved concrete rather than steel.) Two beams were the result of yesterday’s work — there’ll be 27 in total — and they top out some 40 feet below street level. So thanks, Pataki, for that awesome leadership. You’ve shown the terrorists! Pataki Finds Satisfaction in New Roots at 9/11 Site [NYT]
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    9/11 Name Fight Drags OnBecause nothing that concerns ground-zero development is easy, and because nothing about 9/11 commemoration is easy, and because any perception that some victims are being memorialized more than others is taken as a slight by civilian victims’ families, and because any perception that cops and firefighters aren’t being more thoroughly memorialized is take as a slight by their families, well, that’s why 2006 is winding down with people still arguing over a nonexistent memorial. In the latest bit of incremental progress, the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation thought up a new arrangement of victims’ names on the memorial. (The original plan was random placement.) Firefighters and cops will now not be ranked but grouped by command, precinct, or company. Civilians workers killed in the attacks will be listed by employer, but the employer will not be named. Spouses and siblings will be put together. The plan also, somehow, accommodates the names of the Pentagon and United 93 victims as well as the six people who died in the 1993 bombing. Firefighters’ reps are okay with the new order, but the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund isn’t. (And that’s before we hear from everyone else.) Mayor Bloomberg, who is clearly beginning to lose patience, responded: “There is no ‘right’ answer. Nevertheless, it is time to move forward.” You think? Plan Is Changed for Arranging Names on Trade Center Memorial [NYT]
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    More Actual Progress at Ground Zero! Could it be? Yes, it could. A mere three weeks after real, genuine construction started at ground zero — the concrete foundation was finally poured for the much-delayed Freedom Tower — there’s set to be some more real, genuine progress today. Five years after it was badly damaged and rendered uninhabitable by the attacks, the long-shrouded Deutsche Bank building is finally coming down. The AP is reporting that the building’s façade is being removed starting this morning; once that is gone, the steel-and-concrete infrastructure comes next. One of the new WTC towers is set to be built on the site, plus a new Greek Orthodox church. Don’t start rushing to say your Greek prayers, though: It’ll be a year till the current building is gone. Work Begins Friday to Take Down Damaged WTC Skyscraper [AP via Newsday] Earlier: Freedom Tower Construction Finally Begins, Boringly
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    Stop That Train! So the one bright spot at the construction morass that is ground zero has long been Santiago Calatrava’s transportation hub, with a daring design beloved by all and, because it is being constructed by the Port Authority and not by Larry Silverstein, a seemingly strong likelihood of getting built sooner rather than later. Too good to be true, you say? Too good to be true it is! Someone has finally noticed that the roof of Calatrava’s underground mezzanine, which is set to be built of translucent panels that bathe the mezzanine with natural light, is in the same place as the ground-level pedestrian entrance to the victims’ memorial, which is set to be flanked by cathedral-like allée of white oaks. The obvious problem: You can’t exactly plant trees in a field of glass panels. “We are working through these issues and are very close to a resolution,” the Port Authority’s chief flack tells the Times. Yuh-huh. The Intersection of Two Designs and Two Purposes [NYT]
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    Seek and Ye Just Might FindIt’s only two days since Mayor Bloomberg vowed — for the second time — to devote more attention, time, and manpower to sweeping lower Manhattan for 9/11 debris, including human remains. And today brings a brutal reminder that more than mere conscience-cleaning formality is at stake: Three more victims were identified from remains found at ground zero. The city released the names of two; one of them, miraculously, turned out to be Karen Martin, a flight attendant on American 11 stabbed by the hijackers for putting up resistance. The other, Douglas Stone, was a passenger on that same flight. Their families had submitted DNA samples back in 2001 but hadn’t heard anything in years; their reactions, as told to the Daily News, betray mostly surprise. “This is really nice,” said one relative. “This comes out of the blue,” said another. So why isn’t the Bloomberg administration trumpeting this news as a major forensic success and a large step toward closure — all thanks to our managerial mayor? Because the city appears to have had all the pieces of the puzzle in place for quite some time – the remains and the families’ DNA samples – without bothering to do anything about it. Oh, wait. The Bloombergians are trumpeting it anyway. We’ll spare you the unseemly chest-beating, but read the last paragraph of the News article if you just can’t help yourself. More 9/11 Vics ID’d [NYDN] Earlier: Bloomie Promises a Thorough Search, Again
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    Bloomie Promises a Thorough Search, Again Every time New Yorkers start to think of ground zero as your run-of-the-mill star-crossed construction site, along comes a brutal reminder that it’s not. And then we do our best to forget the reminder. In 2002, when Con Ed workers pulled a Secret Service bulletproof vest out of a manhole a block from where the Towers stood, Bloomberg vowed a more thorough search for human remains. That search, as Daily News reported then, never actually transpired. Then, a few weeks ago, Con Ed workers again found debris and remains, including a foot-long human bone. And Bloomberg’s reaction again? Vow a more thorough search! “It’s very possible that something slipped through the cracks,” the mayor said yesterday, in a torturously unfortunate turn of phrase. So what’s he gonna do now?
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    Stations of the Cross The bad news at ground zero today: The site has temporarily lost its only existing memorial, an eighteen-foot-tall cross made out of WTC beams. The good news: Officials are moving it because it’s in the way of construction. Repeat: They’re moving it for construction. The cross, which was found fully formed by first responders on September 13, 2001, is a familiar sight. Though multiple parties have argued every detail — from acreage to font size — of the World Trade memorial-to-be, the cross has been quietly serving as the focal point of ground zero. It will now be stowed at St. Peter’s Church, three blocks away, rather than in a JFK hangar, as the always-sensible Port Authority first proposed. The move was executed with all the expected pomp (“God Bless America” performed? Check), but it raises a question: Exactly what construction was the cross getting in the way of? The Times avoids the subject entirely. We’d hazard a guess, considering the cross’s former placement, that it has something to do with the new PATH station. Perhaps they should have moved it a couple of hundred feet west, to the Freedom Tower site. It wouldn’t be in anyone’s way there for quite a while. Brief Journey for an Icon of the Attack on New York [NYT]