NEW YORK – Even without the name, the symbolism of the Freedom Tower as an American response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks was hard to miss.
The original architect designed a twisting form he wanted to imitate the Statue of Liberty, with a spire that rose to the deliberate height of 1,776 feet to recognize the year of American independence. Politicians called the tower proof of the country's triumph over terrorism.
Former Gov. George Pataki said visitors to the iconic skyscraper "will know our determination to overcome evil" in a 2003 speech that first gave the Freedom Tower its name.
The tower — still under construction with a projected completion date of 2013 — no longer has the same architect, design or footprint on the 16-acre site. And this week, the owners of ground zero publicly parted ways with the Freedom Tower name, saying it would be more practical to market the tallest building in New York as the former north tower's name, One World Trade Center.
Critics called the name drop an unpatriotic shedding of symbolism by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Newspaper editorials blasted the agency for years of missed deadlines and changing plans for the site.
"When you've broken your promises on everything else to do with redeveloping ground zero, it's no big deal to discard the name by which the public has come to know the iconic skyscraper at the heart of the plan," the New York Daily News wrote on Friday.
But others privately repeated fears that have plagued the building as negotiations with major corporations to take up space in the tower came and went: that the 102-story Freedom Tower's name could make it more susceptible to future attacks than a symbol of defiance against it.
"The fact is, more than 3 billion dollars of public money is invested in that building and, as a public agency, we have the responsibility to make sure it is completed and that we utilize the best strategy to make certain it is fully occupied," the agency said in a statement Friday.
Agency chairman Anthony Coscia was more critical in remarks Thursday, when the Port Authority announced its first corporate lease at the tower with a Chinese business center.
"As we market the building, we will ensure the building is presented in the best possible way," he said. One World Trade Center is "easiest for people to identify with, and frankly, we've gotten a very interested and warm reception to it."
Coscia had expressed concerns about the Freedom Tower three years earlier, saying he would never ask Port Authority employees to move into the tallest, most symbolic skyscraper being built at the site because they had survived 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks and would find it too emotionally difficult to return.
Several other government offices were located in the original trade center, and the Port Authority is trying to finalize leases with the federal and state governments that would lease half the building. No other corporate tenants have signed on. The Port Authority has agreed to lease space in another tower being built at the site.
Pataki — who named the Freedom Tower in his 2003 speech and continued to refer to it in rebuilding speeches as a symbol of America's ability to come back after Sept. 11, took offense at the loss of the Freedom Tower moniker and its replacement.
"Where One and Two World Trade Center once stood, there will be a memorial with two voids to honor the heroes we lost. In my view, those addresses should never be used again," he said.
The Port Authority suggested that people could still call the building the Freedom Tower; the name has stuck despite the fact that the agency quietly stopped it on first reference years ago. The agency made One World Trade Center the building's legal name when it took over its construction in 2006, although it also acquired the trademark for the Freedom Tower name.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who said Friday he prefers the name Freedom Tower — said the building's true name may be left to the public.
"One of the things is we call things what we want to call them. So Avenue of Americas is a good example. It's Sixth Avenue to most people," the mayor said. "If they name this One World Trade Center, people will still call it the Freedom Tower."