NEW YORK (AP) The Freedom Tower — the 1,776-ft. (541 m) emblem of Ground Zero’s renaissance — has been so beset by setbacks that it has even had multiple groundbreakings.
But in a visible mark of progress, 25-ton (22.7 t) steel columns are at last rising at the site of the soaring skyscraper that will replace the World Trade Center’s twin towers.
“Today the steel rises, the Freedom Tower rises from the ashes of September 11, and the people of New York and the people of America can be proud,” Gov. George Pataki said on Dec. 19, when a massive crane lifted the first column. Painted with an American flag and the words “Freedom Tower,” the 31-ft.-high (9.4 m) column was set over steel bars on the southern edge of the tower’s base.
The second column, also raised on Dec. 19, bears the signatures of steelworkers and politicians from Virginia, where it spent time at a steel company before being shipped to New York. A third column — covered with signatures of New Yorkers and Sept. 11 victims’ relatives, as well as pictures of some firefighters killed in the 2001 attack — will be installed in the coming days.
By next spring, 27 of the jumbo steel columns will anchor the skyscraper and rise to street level, approximately 70 ft. (21.3 m) from the bottom of Ground Zero.
The tower is expected to be one of the nation’s tallest buildings when it opens in 2011. It has long been planned as the tallest and most symbolic of the five skyscrapers designed to replace the trade center.
“Rising from the heart of the World Trade Center site, the Freedom Tower will symbolize the spirit of our city and our nation: inspiring, soaring and undefeated,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
But lengthy negotiations over who would build the tower and security concerns have delayed the project.
Politicians laid a granite cornerstone in July 2004 to begin construction, but the building was later moved after city police said it would be vulnerable to terrorism because it was too close to traffic.
Construction began again this spring, after the site’s owner renegotiated its lease with a private developer and took over its construction.
Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer, who takes office in January, recently said he planned to look again at designs for the tower. Federal and state agencies, including the governor’s office, already have agreed to occupy half of the building’s office space.
The columns installed Dec. 19 are among the largest made in the world. They were forged in Luxembourg, then shipped to Lynchburg, Va., where workers welded steel plates onto them so they could be properly set in place.
The entire tower will eventually be built with 45,000 tons (40,823 t) of steel, builders said.