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Ground Zero update

As it has been for quite some time, the World Trade Center remains under a cloud of uncertainty. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has assaulted developer Larry Silverstein's plans for the site more vehemently in recent weeks. Bloomberg and some city agencies have charged that Silverstein under-insured his buildings at Ground Zero, that he won't be able to attract enough office rent to make a profit, and that he is holding up development of towers numbers three and four on the site. Silverstein has refuted all three charges. Meanwhile, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the land on the site, has offered to take over some of Silverstein's leases, contending that it will be able to expedite the building process. Silverstein does not seem receptive to this idea. And despite all the discussion, there are still few signs of building.

Sn0hetta building will shrink dramatically

Nowegian firm Sn0hetta is significantly changing its design for what was once the cultural complex at Ground Zero. The new scheme is now being described by officials as a visitors center. The project's design has not yet been unveiled, but it will be about a fifth as large as the original building, according to the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation (WTCMF), which is heading the project's development. Sn0hetta was chosen to design the building, once set to hold the International Freedom Center and the Drawing Center, in fall 2004. That plan was scrapped last fall amid controversy over the content of both museums, as well as the building's interference with the World Trade Center Memorial.

The visitors' center will include ticketing, visitor services, and 9/11-related exhibition space, which will complement the material in the museum under the WTC Memorial, according to the WTCMF. The building will now take up about a fifth of its original's space, shrinking from 250,000 square feet to about 60,000. Its location will shift south, freeing up circulation around the Memorial plaza. Frank Gehry's performing arts center, which is to be located across Fulton Street from the visitors center, is still being planned, but no designs have been released since Gehry was chosen in the fall of 2004.

7 WTC finds tenants

After waiting for some time to attract tenants to 7 World Trade Center, just north of Ground Zero, Silverstein has now leased space to three tenants. The 52-story building, which should be complete in April, was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the firm designing the World Trade Center Freedom Tower.

In early January, Silverstein announced that Ameriprise Financial, an asset-planning and insurance company, signed a 10-year lease for 20,000 square feet of space in the building. The company's New York office is to occupy about half of the building's 39th floor. On January 25, officials from Beijing-based Vantone Real Estate signed a term sheet for 200,000 square feet of space—the top five floors—in the 1.7-million-square-foot building. The company has said that it will seek Chinese business firms to rent the space. Back in December, the New York Academy of Sciences agreed to lease 40,000 square feet in the building.

Critics have been complaining for some time about the 52-story building's long-standing vacancy— which many said was a harbinger of the entire site's overdependence on office space in a market that still seems to favor residential. Many hold that the small amount of leased space does little to make the building financially feasible. S.L.

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