NEW YORK - Nine years after the Sept. 11 attacks, visible progress is finally being made toward rebuilding the World Trade Center site known as Ground Zero.
Delays from political, security and financing concerns have dominated the public image of the roughly $11 billion project in the absence of a gleaming new skyscraper or memorial to those who died when al Qaeda hijackers destroyed the Twin Towers.
But while rapid, visible progress has been made since the last anniversary of the attacks, that has captured little attention. Instead, the debate about Ground Zero has shifted to other concerns, such as the proposed Islamic cultural center to be built two blocks from the site.
Two of four planned office towers are heading skyward. The signature One World Trade Center -- formerly called the Freedom Tower -- is nearly 40 stories tall, on its way to 106 with an antenna that will reach 1,776 feet, making it the tallest building in the United States upon completion, expected by 2013.
Factbox on the project [ID:nN08139085]
An animated view of the project: http://www.brookfieldproperties.com/content/2010_news_releases/evolution_of_the_world_trade_center_animation-20116.html) ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>
A memorial to the nearly 3,000 killed when al Qaeda hijackers crashed commercial planes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania field is on schedule to open a year from now -- on the 10th anniversary when originally the entire massive complex was to have been completed.
From elevated vantage points, the outlines of the two reflecting pools, one marking each footprint of the two towers, can now be seen.
The project is exceedingly complex with a memorial and museum going in alongside four very tall buildings, a transportation hub, and a performing arts center, all being built on top of active subway and commuter rail lines.
"This is one gigantic game of pick-up sticks. Every single thing that you see around here touches another part of the project," said Chris Ward, executive director the Port Authority, which is building one of the towers.
"The schedules we had early on were almost emotional schedules or political schedules. People wanted to feel like downtown was going to get rebuilt quickly," Ward told Reuters at Ground Zero, now a teeming construction site.
The Port Authority is building One World Trade Center and developer Larry Silverstein is building the other three towers, two of which will only proceed above their bases if there is market demand for office space.
"Some of the anxiety and anger over the plan for a mosque near Ground Zero is fueled by the lack of completion of the 9/11 memorial, and to some extent the fact that (al Qaeda leader Osama) bin Laden is still at large," said Richard Shadick, director of counseling and professor of psychology at New York's Pace University.
"A physical memorial in a sacred place where people can honor their losses, I believe, would help quell the pain experienced right now," Shadick said.
The imam who is leading the proposed Islamic center to be built near Ground Zero, Feisal Abdul Rauf, told CNN Wednesday he failed to anticipate the outpouring of protest over the project.
"If I knew that this would happen, this would cause this kind of pain, I wouldn't have done it," Rauf said.
But he rejected pressure to abandon or move the project, saying it would harm U.S. security.
"If we move from that location, the story will be that the radicals have taken over the discourse. The headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack," Rauf said.
"If we do move, it will strengthen the argument of the radicals to recruit, their ability to recruit, and their increasing aggression, violence, against our country."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, promise the memorial plaza -- but not the museum -- will be completed by Sept. 11, 2011.
"We understand the pressure and the importance of making sure that when the world gathers here on the 10-year anniversary this whole plaza will be completed," Ward said.
(Additional reporting by Joan Gralla, Michelle Nichols and David Alexander; Editing by Mark Egan and Vicki Allen)
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