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Survivors’ Stairs Imperil New WTC Construction

Fri April 06, 2007 - Northeast Edition

NEW YORK (AP) Only one remnant of the World Trade Center lies above street level — the staircase that several survivors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks used to escape the debris-filled complex.

A preservation group has called the stairway one of the nation’s most endangered places. But rebuilding officials say a prolonged debate over whether to preserve or demolish the 175-ton staircase is threatening construction schedules for new office towers.

Historians first lobbied to keep the staircase in the same spot, and lately have advocated moving it intact to a nearby park or plaza while officials prepare the land to build one of three planned office towers. The staircase sits on the footprint of a planned tower by British architect Norman Foster.

“We’re trying to save an important piece of history, for history,’’ said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. rebuilding agency earlier this year proposed tearing down all but a few steps of the staircase, and moving the remaining portions to the Sept. 11 museum, or including a few steps in the Foster tower design.

But just before a public comment period ended in February, officials in Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s administration pushed for further discussion.

In a letter in February, the state’s Historic Preservation Office called the proposal to tear down most of the staircase “insufficient,’’ given its symbolism.

A spokesman for the Empire State Development Corp., the LMDC’s parent agency, said there is no timetable for a decision on the staircase. “This is something that we’re carefully examining,’’ said Spitzer spokeswoman Jennifer Givner.

If the state decides to preserve it, securing it and moving it off the site will take three months, a Port Authority official wrote in a memo last month.

It would be 30 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide when it’s ready to move, making it difficult to transport over large distances, wrote Steve Plate, the agency’s director of priority capital programs.

“The Port Authority believes that there could be delays in the rebuilding schedule if the stair remnant is not relocated soon,’’ Plate wrote the LMDC in February.

The agency is currently excavating the land for the three towers, including the Foster-designed one, and needs to deliver it by next year to trade center developer Larry Silverstein to meet deadlines in a new lease. The agency is scheduled to begin work on the spot where the staircase stands in late April, an official said.

If the staircase does not need to be preserved, moving portions of it off-site will take only one month, Plate has said.

The staircase is not the only remnant of the trade center complex still on the site. Officials have already preserved steel columns at the base of the twin towers’ footprints, and part of a retaining wall that formed the towers’ foundations. Several pieces of trade center steel have recently been pulled from a service road being searched for human remains. Remnants of the complex’s old parking garage and even a square or two from the former trade center plaza are still at the site.

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