The jewel of the New York skyline, the pride of a whole nation, is back.
The opening of One World Trade Center, on the site of the former World Trade Center Twin Towers that were destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001, signals a long-awaited return to normal in the Big Apple.
Since Nov. 3, with little fanfare, about 500 employees of the Conde Nast media group moved in. They are due to be joined by another 3,000 early next year.
There are also support staff on site — brought into sharp relief last week by the spectacular rescue of two window washers suspended from the 69th floor.
The symbolic 1,776-foot (541m) tower — including its antenna — is the tallest in the US and in the Western hemisphere.
Its tapered glass silhouette overlooks the Sept. 11 Memorial, dedicated to the 2,753 victims of the New York attacks, along with six victims of a first attack on the Twin Towers in 1993, and sits next to the museum focused on the drama.
The US$3.9 billion, 104-story tower “is the most secure office building any place in the world,” said Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of NY and NJ, which owns the site.
The monumental lobby, with soaring ceilings about 14.3m high, made of white marble throughout, is protected by a special wall that can withstand explosions.
Its concrete foundation is 56.3m tall. A staircase is dedicated to emergency responders, while concrete protects the elevators and stairways. The communications system was designed in collaboration with police, the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security, as well as private experts, Foye said.
From high up in the tower, the 360? view offers glimpses of the Statue of Liberty to the south and the Empire State Building and Central Park to the north.
For Big Apple visitors looking to orient themselves within Manhattan, One World Trade Center is a clear landmark at the southern end of the urban island.
For New Yorkers, it is seen as a long-awaited sign of the determination to rebuild, slowed for years by political negotiations over just what should be done at “Ground Zero” and then by a hurting economy.
Initially dubbed “Freedom Tower,” before its name was changed in 2009, One World Trade Center finally broke ground in 2006. Construction was completed at the end of last year.
About 65 percent of the space has already been rented, Foye said during a visit to the 61st floor, rejecting the idea that some were afraid to move there because of the site’s bloody history.
Among the new tenants — aside from Conde Nast, which is to occupy floors 20 to 44 — are online gamemaker Hi5, publicity group Kids Creative and the China Center, which fosters cultural exchanges between the US and China. In all, about 5,000 people are expected to work in the new tower. And by spring next year, the observatory on the 100th, 101st and 102nd floors is to open to the public, with entry fees set at US$32.
The opening of the new tower “represents a return to normalcy down here,” Foye said, emphasizing that the people would be working there, eating in the nearby restaurants, using the subway stop that should be ready early next year and shopping in the dozens of shops that continue to open.
When the former Twin Towers still stood, the neighborhood was primarily used for offices and was nearly deserted by evening. However, thanks to new residential construction, the population of lower Manhattan has tripled from 20,000 to about 60,000.
“This is a sign of the revitalization of downtown New York City,” Foye said, of “the city and state and region and nation’s response to Sept. 11.”
The memorial and museum “will for ever commemorate what happened here,” and the nearly 3,000 people who died, he said.
“We will never forget that, but I think that we want to do now is to look forward, and the site is a site of progress,” he said.
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