Cornerstone ready for Freedom Tower

NEW YORK – Nearly three years after the twin towers fell, a 20-ton block of granite will be set in place Sunday to mark the official start of construction on a 1,776-foot tower that will rise on the site of the World Trade Center

But plans for the site are far from being set in stone.

Details in the design of the $1.5 billion Freedom Tower, announced last year as a compromise between feuding architects, are still changing. Trade center leaseholder Larry Silverstein still has not signed an anchor tenant for the 70-story tower. And a recent trial over insurance proceeds limited how much he can collect, prompting some to question whether all five proposed office towers on the site will be built.

Despite the uncertainty, Sunday’s cornerstone-laying is “an incredible step for the rebuilding of ground zero,” said Daniel Libeskind, the designer who conceived the site’s original master plan.

The Freedom Tower is set to rise in a corner of the site that still holds the ruins of a parking garage. At 1,776 feet, a height meant to symbolize the year of America’s independence, it will be the tallest skyscraper in the world.

It will be several months before progress is seen above street level, and five years until it is completed. Crews will spend most of the rest of the year demolishing parts of the garage, removing some sections for historic preservation.

Relatives of the Sept. 11 victims worry that construction will damage the nearby slurry wall, the last remnant of the tower complex, and the trade center footprint.

“This is a priceless piece of our American history,” said Anthony Gardner, a Coalition of 9/11 Families member whose brother was killed. He said the construction is premature until more is done to preserve the footprint.

The new building will include at least 60 stories of offices and open space for stores and a restaurant at the top.

David Childs was hired by Silverstein to become the building’s lead architect after Libeskind created the master plan. Childs tinkered with the design of the Freedom Tower to make it more slender, with windmills in an open area at the top instead of the “gardens in the sky” envisioned by Libeskind.

The building’s height remained the same and, after much discussion, so did a 276-foot spire meant to resemble the Statue of Liberty’s torch. But Childs said more changes are possible, including adjustments to the spire’s structure that would change the positioning of cables underneath the spire.

“It’s such a complicated building and it demands so much because it’s got to be the best,” Childs said.

He added that the initial design of the project represents just “1 percent of the work.”

Meanwhile, fears about the development’s future were stoked earlier this year when a federal jury sharply limited Silverstein’s insurance payments.

Silverstein, who leases the site for $10.million a month from the Port Authority, had claimed that the destruction of the twin towers was two attacks, not one, and that he was entitled to an insurance payout of $7 billion instead of $3.5 billion. But he now has a chance to collect no more than $4.5 billion.

The Port Authority recently asked Silverstein to provide more details about how he plans to honor his 99-year lease.

The developer has said he has an “unconditional right and obligation” to rebuild and plans to use insurance and “traditional financing methods” to pay for it.

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