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What's next for Ground Zero?

Workers prepare for Thursday's ceremony at Ground Zero.
Workers prepare for Thursday's ceremony at Ground Zero.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A ceremony was held Thursday to mark the end of the grueling, heroic and often horrific cleanup of the site in New York where 2,823 people died -- 1,102 of them identified by remains and the rest lost without a trace.

Hundreds of workers have labored round the clock at the World Trade Center site since the September 11th attack to remove 1.8 million tons of twisted steel and chunks of concrete.

"Today it's an opportunity to pay homage to the people who lost their lives here, and the survivors and the rescuers," said Louis Tomson of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. "And also a chance to build a good thing."

The cleanup effort went much faster than anticipated, with more than 3 million hours of labor clocked to clear the 16-acre site. The focus now shifts to what, if anything, will be built at the place that has been called Ground Zero, the Site, the Pile and the Pit.

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Since the attacks, proposals have been floated to erect new office towers similar to the twin towers, to build a minimalist tribute with trees and grass, to create a place for meditation, or to mount a monument of some sort.

The New York Times, however, reports it is unlikely that twin 100-story towers will be erected or that the entire 16-acre site will be devoted to a memorial.

In any case, six public forums will be staged first to gather opinions.

"Whoever does it, it's got to be done right," said T.J. Gottisdiener of Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill LLP. "They've got to build the infrastructure back so that from that rises great architecture and a great part of the city."

Monica Iken, whose young husband Michael was killed in the terror attack, said the only reason to rebuild anything on the site is to honor the victims.

"I'd love to see the whole site memorialized for all the lives lost," she said. "I'd love to see that but that's not reality. Reality is that we need to rebuild and I'd like it to incorporate everything along with the memorial that it reflects, so that we have a place to heal in the future and a place to go."

There is considerable historical precedent to build a memorial to September 11 -- tributes to Pearl Harbor victims, Vietnam veterans, and those killed in the Oklahoma City bombing have all been built.

"There is a feeling that the memorial is just a way to make the survivors feel better," said Paul Golberger of The New Yorker magazine. "And in fact, while we all want them to feel better, beause everyone's heart goes out to these people ... the purpose of a memorial has to be able to transcend that.

"It's all about the broader social mission of helping everyone feel a sense of awe and respect for the horror and enormity of what happened."

CNN Correspondent Maria Hinojosa contributed to this report.




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