Although Ground Zero cleanup efforts are at least a month ahead of schedule as of February 2002, it could be years before what will ultimately inhabit the hallowed ground where the Twin Towers once stood is finally decided.

The process to both properly memorialize the victims of Sept. 11 and address Manhattan's difficult real-estate situation is sure to be a fractious one, with a growing number of development groups, volunteer coalitions, politicians, artists and survivors collaborating or competing on plans for the 20-acre area.

But the speedy pace of the cleanup has some thinking they may have to step up efforts to come up with a plan that balances the varied interests of those involved.

"I'll be the first to admit this puts some pressure on all of us to put the plan forward to rebuild," John Whitehead, chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, said at a recent press conference.

The LMDC was established in late November 2001, when top officials appointed a board of directors comprised of leaders from business, labor, government and the community.

The group has appointed four advisory panels — the Families of September 11th Advisory Council; Residents Advisory Council; Restaurants, Retailers and Small Business Advisory Council; and the Arts, Education and Tourism Advisory Council, which will hold their own meetings and report back to the LMDC in March.

"There are a lot of individuals who have an interest and a stake in Lower Manhattan, and the Board wants the process to be as inclusive as possible," LMDC spokesman Matthew Higgins said.

There are also a number of volunteer and private groups looking to add their voices to the discussion.

New York New Visions, a coalition of more than 350 architects, planners, engineers and artists, was formed in September to develop design and planning recommendations to educate decision makers.

Rick Bell, executive director of the American Institute of Architects' New York chapter, said the coalition hopes to inspire decisions that are both rational and beautiful.

"It is important to bring design issues to the mindset of the elected and appointed officials who should not only be making decisions based on real estate and political values, but creating a world-class design by starting with design, not necessarily the economics of it," Bell said.

Architects and artists from around the world were called on to share their visions of a new WTC at a Manhattan art gallery. "A New World Trade Center: Design Proposals," an art exhibit featuring visions by some 50 contributors, has drawn impressive crowds to the Max Protetch Gallery.

"We are setting an example of volunteerism and expertise working on the task at hand — not saying it's my firm, but it's my city and my future," Bell said. "The outpouring of time and passion by members of coalition is unbelievable."

Members of the LMDC also visited the Oklahoma City bombing memorial, which took 15 committees, 600 design proposals and five years to build.

"The memorial process in Oklahoma City was just as important as the memorial itself, because it promoted healing," said LMDC member Roland Betts.

"The process itself, the listening, the sensitivity to feelings, all becomes critical components of creating a memorial. It's more than just building something."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.