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The debate over Ground Zero

Take a look back into the MSNBC archives to read "1600" host David Shuster's opinion about what to do with Ground Zero.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue host David Shuster has been expressed his opinion many times over the course of the years on MSNBC about what to do with Ground Zero. Read some of his past responses below from the archives.

February 17, 2005

America's Freedom Tower?

I consider part of lower Manhattan to be hallowed ground.  Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in the World Trade Center towers... and for that reason alone, our nation should make absolutely sure that what gets built on "Ground Zero" is an inspiring tribute to all who loved the Twin Towers, worked in them, and died there.

For much of the last year, I have been following the twists and turns of the Freedom Tower — the announced office building replacement for the towers destroyed on 9/11.  But I regret to report that this proposed skyscraper, instead of standing for freedom, is fast becoming a symbol of incompetence, deceit, political cronyism, and shame.

Let's start with the basics:  The Freedom Tower office/skyscraper was designed by architect (who never built a skyscraper before) and embraced by New York Governor George Pataki.  (I will get to Pataki down below.)  One of their was that this would be the world's "tallest building."  But that's only true if you include the hollow windmill turbines, the eccentric spire, and the broadcast antennas.   Only 70 stories of the Freedom Tower will be occupied.   New York's Empire State building, finished in 1931, is occupied through 102 stories.

Then there are the engineering "realities." that the offset spire planned for the Freedom Tower  may not be possible. Engineers aren't sure how the eccentrically shaped and located spire will behave in high winds during the construction phase or afterwards.  (Yes, tall buildings get windy at the top.) The windmill turbines are running into engineering and cost issues... never mind that the turbines are only supposed to power 1/5 of the building anyway.  Furthermore, it now appears the TV antennas (which are necessary for this building to be the "world's tallest") may be impractical.

The reason the WTC twin towers were able to support heavy TV antennas was because of "mass."  It's a physics issue.  The twin towers, with their solid square design, had a lot of mass at the top... the Freedom Tower does not.  Furthermore, even if you get past that problem, broadcast organizations aren't certain the off-set antennas, shadowed by part of the building and next to a metallic spire, would even work.  And if they aren't going to work, they will not be paid for.

Those are just the problems at the top.  At a recent public meeting, officials representing the Freedom Tower (and a related group called the ) were informed that the concrete already poured at the base may not allow for some of the 21st century gadgetry one would expect underneath a tall new building.   Oops.

But let's just assume that all of the engineering issues are fixed and somebody finds the extra money to pay for them.  What about the design itself?  I don't know anybody (aside from friends and family of Daniel Libeskind and George Pataki) who is really excited about the design... not one.   Take a look for yourself.  Is this design something you are proud of?  Does it send the proper message to those who want to terrorize and scare our nation?  Consider the major players in New York: Former mayor Rudy Giuliani is not camera shy.  But he has been notably absent from nearly everything associated with this project.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems about as enthusiastic as somebody about to get a root canal.  The New York City police and firefighters?  Ask them and you will get an earful.  Most of New York's "finest" seem to despise the freedom tower. 

And then there is Governor George Pataki.  Let's "follow the money."  One of Governor Pataki's most prominent political and financial supporters is a man named Ron Lauder. (Lauder is an heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics empire.)  In the late 1990s, Lauder gave New York's Pataki controlled GOP more than $200,000.   In 2002, Lauder reportedly gave Pataki's wife $40,000 in "."  In 2003, those "consulting fees" doubled.   But back to 2002.   According to New York's State Board of Elections:  On September 26, 2002, Ron Lauder gave $30,000 to a campaign fundraising committee called "Friends of Pataki."  On that same day, Sept. 26, 2002, "Friends of Pataki" received $28,000 from Lauder's wife.   On that same day, Sept. 26, 2002, "Friends of Pataki" received $10,000 from Lauder's daughter.

September 26, 2002 was also the day that the Pataki controlled Lower Manhattan Development Corporation quietly narrowed down more than 400 entries in the WTC replacement "design contest" to seven semi-finalists.  One of the semi finalists was a close friend of the Lauder family, an architect named Daniel Libeskind. 

Did Governor Pataki, in exchange for the Lauder campaign contributions, pressure the LMDC to select a design by Lauder friend Daniel Libeskind?

Governor Pataki's office refused to comment and directed me to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.  A spokesperson for the LMDC called the theories "bizarre" and said, "we went through an unprecedented worldwide selection process.  Stories that suggest anything to the contrary are absurd."  Regarding the engineering challenges, the LMDC spokesperson said, "we are working through the process."

None the less, several of my contacts and colleagues in New York say they still don't like the "smell" coming from the proposed Freedom Tower. And they point out an intriguing solution.

February 22, 2005

Freedom Tower versus new Twin Towers

This week, New York City is rolling out its bid for the 2012 Olympic games.  The bid includes proposed sporting venues, hotels, housing complexes, and office space in midtown Manhattan, New Jersey, and many of the city's boroughs.  But lower Manhattan, the part of the city most recognizable around the world (until terrorists brought down the Twin Towers on 9/11) is totally and completely ignored.  The proposed replacement known as the Freedom Tower is not mentioned or shown anywhere in the city's Olympic materials. 

Talk about a lack of pride. 88 nations lost citizens in the WTC attacks on 9/11.  Can you imagine an Olympic games 11 years after 9/11, where America's message to the world is, "Our most sacred piece of property is not even worth a mention or visit?" 

If New York's Olympic bid committee is ashamed of the proposed Freedom Tower, the committee is not alone.  One year ago, Donald Trump called the proposed tower "a 50 story building that looks like it's 120 stories."  "It's a skeleton," Trump said, "and that's the last thing we need in New York is a skeleton representing the World Trade Center." 

One of the workers from the WTC restaurant "Windows on the World" said that in memory of his colleagues and friends who were trapped and died on the 102nd floor...  there is "no way" he will ever run a "Windows on the World" that sits on any building's 68th floor. (The "occupied space" of the Freedom Tower will be at least 30 stories shorter than the WTC towers.) 

And just to remind you, Rudy Giuliani (who has been notably absent from every Freedom Tower event) has privately told friends he is "embarrassed" by the design.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg is said to have privately described the freedom tower a "disappointment."  And members of the NYPD and the NYFD have openly declared the proposal to be an "embarrassment."

So, why is the Freedom Tower moving forward?  In going back through the selection process pushed forward by New York Governor George Pataki, I've been struck by a number of irregularities.  All six of the final proposed WTC replacement designs were widely described by media articles two years ago as a "disappointment."  Polls suggested the least disappointing of the final six was a scaffolding type rendition of the Twin Towers by an architect named Rafael Vignoli.  But after secret meetings involving the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Vignoli's design still came in as the "runner up" in the final selection.  How did the Freedom Tower beat Vignoli's design?  One of my reporting colleagues tells a chilling story about having set up an interview with Vignoli, who at first seemed eager to talk about his "view" of the selection process. The next day, just before the interview was supposed to take place, the architect's secretary called and said something along the lines of, "Mr. Vignoli is satisfied to have made it this far and has decided he will not be doing any interviews."  Click.  What changed? Mr. Vignoli and his associates are still not talking to reporters.

But never mind all of that for the moment... last week's blog, generated an avalanche of e-mails.   A few of you suggested I was too hard on Libeskind's Freedom Tower design, given that he offers the latest architectural and artistic principles and that "every building" faces some engineering challenges.  Maybe so.  However, most of you said the real issue is that the Twin Towers should be rebuilt.  Anything less, you suggested, would be a victory for al-Qaida and a permanent shame.   

Peter Walukiewicz wrote that he lost friends in the WTC on 9/11 and that "rebuilding the Twin Towers is the ultimate tribute to our fallen heroes... I can't think of a more powerful affirmation of our strength and resolve." 

Tracy DiNardo, who lost a friend in the NYFD on 9/11, said "the towers should be built again as they were before with all necessary updates." 

And one Hardblogger reader suggested, "Imagine the pride that would sweep across this nation as a modern, stronger, and taller version of the Twin Towers started rising again in the sky over Manhattan..."   

The image of a new Twin Towers, slightly off-set from where the old ones stood, has already been embraced by several architects and designers.  My question is, what do you think?  Take a look at the photos for a "Twin Tower" design and compare it to the design planned for the "Freedom Tower."

Which building design would you prefer to see in NYC?