NEW YORK – A full year after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, New York City seems nowhere close to deciding how to rebuild the site of the World Trade Center.
The issue is an emotional one, given that thousands of families who lost loved ones that day, as well as many others who took part in the rescue attempts and clean-up mission, consider the site hallowed ground.
"It is a burial ground and a historic site people will want to see 100 years from now," former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said recently.
Nearly 3,000 people died at the World Trade Center when hijacked airliners smashed into the 110-story Twin Towers, demolishing them in the most vicious terror attack ever on U.S. soil.
Ground Zero is now the tie that has bound America together to present a united front in the war on terror. The site exudes the sadness that ensued as mourners flocked to the destroyed landmark to pay their respects. But it’s also remembered as a place of heroism, where countless volunteers risked their lives trying to save others on Sept. 11 and searched tirelessly for survivors afterward.
"We must show what's inside a man who will do what they did," Giuliani said. "That's why it is so valuable for so many people from all over the world."
The attacks that crumbled the Twin Towers also destroyed or damaged several other buildings on the 16-acre site. More than 13 million square feet in six destroyed buildings were lost, while another 21 million square feet in 23 other buildings were damaged. About 1.8 million tons of debris were removed from the site.
Since then, a debate has raged over how to rebuild the site. Some want more commercial property in the area, others want more residential units, and some think the entire area should be a memorial to the people who died there.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is leading the downtown revitalization effort, released six proposals in July. All of these proposals called for the inclusion of several buildings, a memorial, a transportation hub, public open space, civil and cultural institutions, a rebuilt church and some apartment units. Each plan dedicated four to 10 acres to the memorial.
But none of the ideas got much applause from the public, particularly from families of the victims and New Yorkers.
"It is obvious from the public response that the plans released by the LMDC in July fell short of the public's expectations for the future of the World Trade Center site," said Darya Cowan, project coordinator for Imagine New York, an area civic group. "We feel that whatever happens, the public's voice should play an extremely important role, which it did not in the first set of plans."
So, in August, LMDC launched a new effort to reel in some bigger and better designs.
All designs must include: a distinctive skyline; recognition of the tower footprints; commercial and retail space; a grand promenade on the hard-hit West Street, which would include connecting the memorial with the ferries in Battery Park to Liberty and Ellis islands; a new street grid; a central transit center; residential housing; cultural elements, such as a museum or performing arts center; and a sequence of public open spaces of different sizes.
Three new plans will be chosen by the end of the year, and one final plan will be picked by next spring for public review.
But rebuilding what the terrorists destroyed involves more than just the World Trade Center site.
"While the WTC tragedy affected people across the New York region and the world, residents of Lower Manhattan are the ones that will have to live with whatever is built, so their interests and needs should be strongly considered in the rebuilding," Cowan said.
"We believe it’s impossible to evaluate a plan for the World Trade Center out of context of all of lower Manhattan," said Beverly Willis, co-chairperson of civic group Downtown Our Town.
LMDC said this new effort takes those concerns to heart.
"All of Lower Manhattan will be our canvas," said LMDC spokesman Matthew Higgins.
Willis’ group and others are applauding an idea floated by Gov. George Pataki: New York would give the Port Authority control of the land the city’s airports sit on if the Port Authority hands over the land on which the towers stood. It is argued that if the state owns the land, there will be more flexibility on what is built and not as many commercial obligations would have to be filled.
New Yorkers, and the world, are likely to embrace a design that holds a spiritual nature to remember those who were lost and one that symbolizes the strength of the city, and the country as a whole, and its people.
Index trader Derek Turner, who lives and works in the Bahamas, lost friends in the towers. He came to visit the site on a chilly Feb. 16 to speak to them one last time. He awoke from a dream at 4:20 a.m. the following morning in his Manhattan hotel room and drew a sketch of what he thought should be built on the complex.
His design has caught attention worldwide and he sends weekly updates on its input to city and state representatives. He is in the running to have his design chosen for the site.
Turner pleads with people to not call the area "Ground Zero," and his design holds high the people who lost their lives and gives their loved ones a place where they can forever stay close to them.
"Two thousand, eight hundred and thirty-three lives were taken on [Sept. 11] and they were anything but zero or nil -- they were heroes," Turner told Fox News.
With that in mind, he wants to create the world’s tallest building at 1,750 feet. It would include five cylindrical towers topped by an 11-story pyramid, arising from an enclosed, transparent, climate-controlled landscaped biosphere. Other features would include 50 elevators named after the U.S. states and revolving floors of international cuisine and observation platforms. The design also includes concert, opera and theater halls, recreation areas and underground shopping areas, waterways and greenery.
But the clincher may be the biosphere, which will house 2,883 trees -- one for every person who died that day, which will forever bear a plaque and picture of the victim.
And why does Turner think his design should be chosen?
"It’s got heart - that’s the difference," he said. People "want a beacon bigger and brighter than what was ever built before and no way would these people allow something anything less than what was there.
"This is a living memorial, not an inert one."