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‘I feel their spirits’

Sat., Sept. 30, 2006

NEW YORK — Alicia Ferrer was a state tax auditor at the World Trade Center and got out alive on Sept. 11. She never wants to work at that tragic site again.

“It’s just the idea of being in the spot. I feel their spirits,” said Ferrer, who lost more than 30 colleagues and friends at the twin towers. “I just don’t think I can be there.”

The city, state and federal governments struck a deal last week to occupy one-quarter of the office space in the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower and another skyscraper that will rise at ground zero.

But some government employees shudder at the thought and say they can’t go back — either because they believe it would be too unsettling to work at a spot where nearly 2,800 people were killed, or because they fear the place will be attacked by terrorists again.

How big a problem this will be remains to be seen. Many of the government agencies that will move into the new skyscrapers have not yet been named, and it will be five or six years before workers move into the two buildings.

Several of the twin towers’ former corporate tenants, for various reasons, are also saying no to space in the skyscrapers.

“I don’t think we’re interested in making a point with respect to what building we’re in,” said Howard Lutnick, chief executive of Cantor Fitzgerald, a bond brokerage that lost 658 employees on Sept. 11. The company has moved to offices in midtown and near the trade center in downtown Manhattan.

Even the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owned the twin towers and is taking 14 floors in another planned building on the site, has declared that workers would find it too wrenching to move into the tallest and most symbolic skyscraper, the Freedom Tower. The agency occupied the trade center during both the 2001 attack and the 1993 terrorist truck bombing.

“These very brave people would find it emotionally difficult to go back to that particular building,” Anthony Coscia said last week.

The agency, which is the Freedom Tower’s landlord, approved a deal that commits state and federal agencies — including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a former trade center tenant — to move into the skyscraper, while the Port Authority and city will move to a second tower on the site. Government tenants also were the first to occupy the trade center when it opened in the early 1970s.

Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said Tuesday that some private companies have also expressed interest in moving in — though he would not identify them — and that the agency is launching a marketing campaign to secure more tenants for the Freedom Tower by the time it opens in 2011.

Ferrer and her colleagues do not want to be among them. The state Department of Taxation and Finance lost 31 people in the attacks; Ferrer was at the bank in the trade center concourse when the first plane hit.

She said the towers should be rebuilt — “We have to show that they did not win” — but she would find it impossible to work there herself.

Virginia Urzi, another auditor in the department, said she fears terrorists will attack the towers again. “They want to build the Freedom Tower and just fill it with government employees,” she said. “I’m very offended.”

Jane Heisel, a department supervisor, said of the rebuilding of prime office space: “Businesswise, I can understand it.” But she said she can’t return. “For me, it feels like a cemetery,” she said.

Christine Burling, spokeswoman for the state Office of General Services, said the state will decide later which agencies will move there. She said the state would consider on a case-by-case basis specific department requests not to go back to the trade center site, but said her office has received no such requests.

The federal government and the city have not said whether they will allow their employees to say no to working at the trade center site.

The city has not yet said which municipal agencies will return to the site. But Arthur Cheliotes, president of a Communications Workers union local that represents 9,000 administrative employees, said: “We’re all fearful that any of these landmarks becomes a target.”


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