| GEO Amazing and Interesting|
New skyscraper rises at Ground Zero
| Updated at: 0837 PST, Friday, August 20, 2010|
NEW YORK: As controversy over a proposed mosque two blocks from Ground Zero gathers steam, the 104-story One World Trade Center is quietly emerging from the sprawling building site in lower Manhattan.
Until last year, Ground Zero was a bleak gash of concrete and steel in the heart of the city's financial district, visited by tourists, friends and families of the 3,000 victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, but bearing no signs of rebuilding.
Inertia, heated arguments between developers and property owners and the solemn 9-11 commemorations each year helped turn Ground Zero into hallowed ground, making it difficult for the country to turn the page on the tragic memory.
Then the controversy over a proposed Islamic cultural center broke, drawing fire from opponents who call it offensive to the memory of the 9-11 victims, even if it is planned to go up a full two blocks north of Ground Zero itself.
Sixty-eight percent of Americans are against the multi-story "Cordoba House," according to a CNN poll.
The project however includes supporters such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who believes it will help to heal the 9-11 wounds.
Last week, US President Barack Obama stepped into the fray, supporting freedom of religion and the right to build on private property, in what political observers call a tricky move three months from key legislative elections.
Quietly, in the midst of the controversy, One World Trade Center is drawing people's attention inside the urban scar left by two Al-Qaeda-hijacked airliners nine years ago.
The brainchild of architect David Childs, the skyscraper will be the tallest in the Americas, rising 1,776 feet (541 meters) to echo the year of US independence. Right now it is a 32-story stump of steel girders.
The 104-story building is scheduled for completion in 2013, according to Cushman & Wakefield real estate, the company that will lease its 269,000 square meters (2.9 million square feet) of office space and 46,000 stores, restaurants and observation decks.
Cushman Vice Chairman Tara Stacom said Wednesday that the mosque controversy has not harmed business.
"There has not been any impact," she said, adding that as far as One World Trade Center was concerned, "demand is very strong."
"This building will be transformative for this city and many companies want to be a part of it," she said. "We have a letter of intent with Conde Nast (publisher) for a significant portion of the building."
By the end of the year the building should stand 50 stories high.
"Here we are, after nine years of this, and this thing is moving forward at a terrific pace," the project's chief developer Larry Silverstein told NY1 news channel.
A Chinese firm was first to sign a lease for 17,000 square feet (183,000 square feet) of office space in the tower. It plans to set up a business center dedicated to the world's second-largest economy -- China overtook Japan this week.
Five different high-rises will surround "One WTC," including the 288-meter (947-foot) Tower 4 which can also be seen sprouting at Ground Zero.
The mega-project was held up for a while over differences between Silverstein, who leased the entire World Trade Center site only weeks before 9-11, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. In March, they reached an agreement.
"I think that everybody came to the realization that this had to get done, and the Port Authority came to realize they cannot do this without us; we realized we can't do this without them," said Silverstein.
The 79-year-old developer, who last year was uncertain he would be able to see the project to its end, now is confident it will be completed in five or six years.
The new World Trade Center site will include a 9-11 memorial and a bus and train transportation hub designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava that "will be much larger than Grand Central," said Stacom.