I have read so much lately about the group of Muslims who want to build a mosque “in the shadow of the World Trade Center,” just two blocks from ground zero in New York, that I wondered what has actually been happening at ground zero.
You almost never read about it. After all, the Sept. 11 attacks occurred almost nine years ago. So what has been accomplished there in terms of rebuilding the site and honoring those killed?
I put my ace research team (Google and Wikipedia) on it and came up with a very sad answer: Nothing has been completed at the site, and very little is even under construction.
Things have moved so slowly that even the most modest achievements are cause for celebration. On Feb. 5 of this year, The Associated Press ran a story that began:
“Structural steel for the 1,776-foot tower that will be known as 1 World Trade Center has risen 200 feet above street level, a tangible sign of ground zero progress, redevelopment officials said Wednesday.
“‘This progress is one more sign that the site is not a pit anymore,’ said Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the 16-acre trade center site.”
Not a pit anymore? That’s the best we can do after all these years? And before you get too excited about that “200 feet” of “structural steel” above ground, that means we have built the barest framework of about 20 stories. In all this time. And all these billions of dollars later.
Given the worldwide attention that the 10th anniversary of the attacks is going to get next year, I think I would have thrown up some two-by-fours, draped them in canvas and painted a skyscraper on them. Just for now.
As Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes” pointed out in late February: “On the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11, $7 billion will have been spent, but not one project will be finished. Most of the buildings in the master plan are still in doubt, and at best, a decade after the attack, ground zero will still look like a major construction site.”
By comparison, the Empire State Building, still the third tallest skyscraper in America at 1,454 feet, was built in one year. During the Great Depression.
The twin towers of the original World Trade Center were completed in less than five years.
And now? Now ground zero remains virtually empty after almost nine years. “I describe it as a national disgrace,” Larry Silverstein, the 78-year-old real estate developer who owns the lease on the property, told Pelley.
Pelley wrote in a companion article to the “60 Minutes” segment: “Silverstein and I should have been craning our necks at five skyscrapers, including America’s tallest tower. We should have been jostled by commuters surging in and out of a spectacular, $2,000,000,000 train station. And, all around us, there should have been a gentle, cascading sound from the 9/11 memorial, two waterfalls laid out in the footprints of the twin towers, a whispering reminder of 2,752 people murdered here.
“But as we stood near the center of the seven-story pit, none of that was here. Nearly nine years after the attack on Manhattan, not one project was finished.”
I think that if the 1,776-foot building, 1 World Trade Center, had been finished by now, instead of being barely under way, there would have been much less controversy over a relatively small, 13-story community center and mosque being planned for construction two blocks away.
But because so little has gone up at “our” site, maybe we are more than a little embarrassed that some Muslims are going to build on “their” site first.
So when should the construction on ground zero be finished? “If you continue going at the rate we’re going, these buildings might not be finished until ... 2037,” Silverstein said. “Now, I’m 78 years of age. I want to see this thing done in my lifetime.”
Quick, somebody grab some two-by-fours and some canvas.
Roger Simon is POLITICO’s chief political columnist.