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Cornerstone to be laid at trade center site

From Phil Hirschkorn and Alina Cho

Freedom Tower, shown in an architect's model, includes a 1,776-foot spire.
New York
Manhattan (New York)
Daniel Libeskind
George E. Pataki

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A cornerstone is scheduled to be laid Sunday at New York's World Trade Center site for Freedom Tower, designed to be the tallest building in the world.

A 20-ton chunk of granite from the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York will be placed inside the 70-foot deep foundation, launching a five-year construction plan for a 1,776-foot skyscraper that will become an iconic symbol for the New York City skyline.

"What better day to lay the cornerstone of the Freedom Tower than the day our country declared its independence," said Gov. George Pataki, who has named the building the Freedom Tower.

"Everyone understands that this is more than a building, more than just a site. It is a symbol of American freedom, and a symbol of our renewal," Pataki said.

About 100 family members of September 11 victims will be present for the cornerstone ceremony.

"It's one more step to this hole not being here. It's one more step to recovery," said Charles Wolf, the husband of a trade center attack victim. "It's not just to show that we're rebuilding, it's important to rebuild."

Wolf's wife, Katherine, 40, began working for Marsh and McLennan, on the 97th floor of the north tower, just three weeks before it was struck by a 767 jetliner hijacked by al Qaeda terrorists.

"They may have gotten my wife, but they're not getting the rest of my life, and I think we Americans are saying they're not getting our life either."

Some 9/11 families have criticized rebuilding officials for sidestepping historic preservation and the commitment not to rebuild on the acre-wide squares where the twin towers were anchored, known as their "footprints."

"We are not opposed to the rebuilding moving forward. We just don't want it to move forward and the physical remains of the footprints to be destroyed in that process," said Anthony Gardner, whose brother Harvey was killed inside the south tower.

Opinions vary widely on what standard defines the "tallest building in the world," whether it includes towers or antenna or neither in the measurement of height. Some buildings are tallest in one category and not under a different standard.

The Freedom Tower's torqued glass and steel tower includes a 276-foot spire. A broadcast antenna will bring the total height above 2,000 feet.

Daniel Libeskind's firm designed the Freedom Tower and the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, England, and the Jewish Museum in Berlin.

By comparison, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, stand 1,483 feet and were the world's tallest buildings until they were surpassed last year by the Taipei 101 Tower, which is 1,674 feet.

The CN Tower in Toronto, which Canadians claim is the world's tallest building, or free-standing structure, is 1,815 feet. Most experts consider it out of the running because it is a tower and not a building.

The World Trade Center twin towers were 1,360 feet and were briefly the world's tallest at completion in 1972-'73, but the Sears Tower in Chicago, at 1,450 feet, surpassed them in 1974 and remains the tallest in the United States.

The tower will be the main skyscraper at the 16-acre site -- designed by architect David Childs and master site planner Daniel Libeskind. Libeskind conceived the symbolic height and spire to echo the profile of the Statue of Liberty, which the Polish-born Libeskind saw upon his arrival in the United States in 1959.

The tower is to have a concrete core and be encased in a steel cable netting that will brace the building. Childs has likened the cables to those of a suspension bridge such as the Brooklyn Bridge.

It will have 2.6 million square feet -- 60 floors of offices, capped by an indoor observation deck and a restaurant, and wind-harvesting turbines that could provide 20 percent of the building's energy. Two concourse levels will house stores and provide pedestrian access to mass transit.

The owner of the trade center land, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, will likely be the tower's anchor tenant.

Real estate developer Larry Silverstein, who leased the trade center for 99 years six before it was destroyed, will develop the new tower. Construction is projected to cost $1.5 billion.

The tower's steel frame is supposed to be completed in 2006, the final year of Pataki's third term in office, with the building ready for occupancy in 2008.

Pataki, a Republican close to President Bush, has been accused of rushing the schedule to provide a boost to the Republican National Convention, which begins in Manhattan in late August.

Pataki says the timing of the cornerstone laying is coincidental.

"Our goal was to do it September 11th, to do it on the third anniversary of the horrible attacks, but we have made so much progress," he said.

A memorial to 2,749 people killed at the trade center on September 11, 2001, and six people killed in the 1993 truck bombing, will be built at the same time, starting in 2006.

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