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2004 In Review: The Year In The Rebuilding Of The WTC Site

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Three years after the September 11th terror attacks, rebuilding at the World Trade Center continues in earnest. NY1's John Schiumo has a look at some of the milestones from the past year.

2004 can best be described as the year concepts became reality. Just six days into the new year, rebuilding officials announced the winning design for the World Trade Center memorial. From more than 5,000 entries, "Reflecting Absence" emerged.

Its public unveiling included an apology from the memorial's humbled designer.

“It is with regret that I cannot offer any design that satisfies everyone. But I hope that what I am suggesting will be a way that minimizes the pain that others are still feeling," said Michael Arad.

Arad's design team grew to include accomplished architects Peter Walker and Max Bond. Updated schematics were presented to the public in December. Visitors can descend to the foundation of the site, accessing the original columns and the exposed slurry wall.

“The idea of this water going and falling and disappearing will be a symbol,” said Bond. “It’s one of the things that people always respond to is water as a symbol of life and also as a symbol of, when it disappears, of absence."

The names of the victims will be listed randomly, but rescue workers will be recognized with the insignia of their agency. It’s an issue that divided many family members in 2004.

Also in January, renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava captivated critics with his design for an arching, wing-like transit hub.

“The idea of a child releasing a bird and making a gift is one of the models for the design," said Calatrava.

The design comes complete with a retractable glass roof to allow natural light to penetrate 60 feet down to the tracks. The estimated $$2 billion project is expected to be finished by 2009.

Environmental studies for a rail link connecting the World Trade Center site to JFK Airport began in 2004, but the year ends without the needed financial commitment from the federal government.

In June, rebuilding officials selected four cultural institutions to fill the arts space designated at the site. The Joyce International Dance Center and the Signature Theatre will occupy the Performing Arts Center that architect Frank Gehry and partners will design, and the International Freedom Center and the Drawing Center will occupy a museum complex designed by the Norwegian firm, Snohetta.

On the 4th of July, the cornerstone of the Freedom Tower was symbolically laid. At 1,776 feet, the site's signature building will be the world's tallest. Completion is scheduled for 2009.

Behind the scenes, the forced, often contentious relationship between the site's master planner, Daniel Libeskind, and developer Larry Silverstein's architect, David Childs, culminated with Libeskind suing for money allegedly owed for work on the project.

"I don't think we are going into practice. We’re not going into a partnership soon,” said Libeskind. “It was a tough struggle, and yet that's part of the challenge."

An arbitrator eventually settled the disagreement.

Meanwhile this year, two separate juries ruled on Silverstein's lawsuits against his insurance companies. In May, a financial setback for the developer. But in December, a win, as a jury ruled there were two separate attacks on the towers.

The last building to fall on 9/11 is the first to rise, and in October, rebuilding officials presided over the topping off of 7 World Trade Center. At 52 stories, it is billed as the safest tall building in the world. Work is expected to finish sometime in 2005, although no anchor tenant has signed on.

"As you know, buildings do not stay vacant in New York. They always get filled,” said Silverstein. “It's not a question of if, it's simply a question of when."

While building seven rises, the Deutsche Bank Building is slated to come down. The year ends as the planning begins on the safest way to demolish the contaminated structure.

With each passing year, the city grows closer to reclaiming the skyline, to replacing the office space, to improving the transportation. But on September 11th, 2004, work stopped at the World Trade Center site, to remember what we lost.

- John Schiumo


See all of NY1's reviews of the major news events of 2004 in "A Look Back."
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