Image: View from restaurant at World Center Hotel.
Mark Lennihan  /  AP
Nora Bourabah, a waitress with the View of the World Terrace Club, poses for photographers at the new World Center Hotel  June 9, 2010, in New York. The rising tower of One World Trade Center is at left.
updated 6/9/2010 4:38:32 PM ET 2010-06-09T20:38:32

The rooms at the new World Center Hotel are about as close as you can get to ground zero without a hard hat.

The 169-room hotel just south of the World Trade Center site celebrated its grand opening Wednesday, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed World Center Hotel Day. But in what hotel executives call a soft opening, guests have been staying there for months as construction was completed floor by floor.

Deena Mendlowitz, an improv performer from Cleveland, said after checking out that it was "phenomenal" to see the rebuilding firsthand.

Mendlowitz said she visited New York in 2002, and the trade center site was depressing then, just a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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"It's more hopeful now," she said. "It seems like they're reaching the next phase, which is great."

Some of the hotel's rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the trade center site or the former Deutsche Bank building, which was irreparably contaminated when the twin towers were destroyed and is being dismantled. The 20th-floor restaurant terrace is just about level with the formerly 40-story Deutsche Bank tower.

The hotel's Web site advertises its proximity to the trade center rebuilding process and to the financial industry. Rooms start at $199.

Some rooms have been made into corporate apartments for extended stays.

"People choose to be here for a number of different reasons," said Cheryl Palmer, vice president of Club Quarters Inc., the company that's opening the hotel.

She added, "There are people who want to come and view the site. People do appreciate the opportunity to be as close as they are to the rebuilding."

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