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Ceremony Marks Groundbreaking for Freedom Tower

The cornerstone of a new skyscraper that will one day soar over ground zero has been unveiled, a symbolic step for victims' relatives and a chance for Manhattan (search) to reclaim its broken skyline.

A crane lifted the 20-ton stone, quarried from the Adirondack Mountains, and placed it Sunday in the southeastern corner of what will be the Freedom Tower's foundation.

The inscription read, "To honor and remember those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 (search) and as a tribute to the enduring spirit of freedom -- July Fourth, 2004."

Gov. George E. Pataki (search) said he chose to begin construction on the 1,776-foot tower -- no other building in the world will be taller -- on July 4 to show that terrorists who brought down the towers on Sept. 11 didn't destroy the country's faith in freedom.

"Let this great Freedom Tower show the world that what our enemies sought to destroy -- our democracy, our freedom, our way of life -- stands taller than ever," Pataki told about 500 people gathered at the 16-acre site.

New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey said: "We reclaim this ground in the names of those who we have lost." The 13-year-old son of a police officer killed on Sept. 11 read portions of the Declaration of Independence.

Family members of victims attending the ceremony were pleased that construction was under way.

"It's a new beginning," said John Foy, whose mother-in-law, Rita Blau, was killed in the south tower. "We all need to move on and rise above this."

The stone and its inscription will eventually disappear from view, as crews work over the next year to remove ruins of a parking garage and shore up the 70-foot-deep foundation before building the Freedom Tower above street level. Parts of the parking garage will go to a storage hangar at John F. Kennedy International Airport for historic preservation.

When it is ready for occupancy in 2009, the twisting glass and steel tower, topped by a 276-foot spire designed to evoke the Statue of Liberty, will include 2.6 million square feet of office space on 72 floors. Sixty stories of office space will be topped by 10 stories of open-air retail and restaurant space, an observation deck and energy-generating windmills.

Trade center leaseholder Larry Silverstein has plans to build four more towers between 2009 and 2015, although some have questioned whether he still has the money to do so after losing a trial aimed at doubling his $3.5 billion insurance policy.

Silverstein has said he has more than enough money to build the Freedom Tower (search), budgeted at $1.5 billion, and will use "traditional financing methods" to pay for the rest of the development.

Construction is also planned for a memorial that would transform the twin towers' footprints into reflecting pools and cultural space including several small theaters.

A group of victims' family members passed out pictures of the tower footprints outside the ceremony, saying they couldn't support the rebuilding until they were assured the historic elements of the site would be protected.

Architect David Childs, of Skidmore Owings and Merrill, was hired by Silverstein to become the building's lead architect after Daniel Libeskind created the master plan.

Taiwan's Taipei 101 tower, at 1,676 feet, recently supplanted Malaysia's 1,483-foot Petronas Towers as the tallest building in the world. The 110-story World Trade Center towers were 1,350 feet tall.

On Sunday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted that once again, "the world's tallest building will rise in lower Manhattan."