- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2002

NEW YORK (Agence France-Presse) Thousands of New Yorkers sent a sharp message yesterday to city officials to rethink proposals for redeveloping the devastated World Trade Center site and to heed public demands for a powerful, permanent memorial.
Billed as the "largest town hall meeting of its kind," a daylong public forum drew more than 5,000 people for a strident and at times emotional debate on how best to rebuild from the September 11 terror attack that destroyed the center's twin towers.
The debate focused on six formal proposals drawn up by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The plans have been widely criticized by the press, architects, urban designers and victims' families for lacking imagination and pandering to the Port Authority owner of the 16-acre site.
The Port Authority wants 11 million square feet of commercial office space and 600,000 square feet of retail space incorporated in any redevelopment.
Yesterday's meeting, which brought together whites, blacks and Hispanics, firefighers and corporate chiefs, community activists and real estate developers, found little to praise in the six plans.
Three of the proposals were ranked as poor or unsatisfactory, while the best response was a 15 percent "excellent" rating for one design known as Memorial Plaza.
The schemes were criticized for lacking ambition and an overemphasis on office space, while a majority of participants said they wanted the footprints of the twin towers preserved as a "remarkable symbol."
In a final vote of the day, around 70 percent said they were only "somewhat" or "little" confident that their suggestions would even be acted upon.
"It was important to see that question mark raised over the sincerity of the officials who came here," said Lee Lelpi, a retired firefighter, whose firefighter son died when the World Trade Center collapsed.
"What we have done is to take the tennis ball and throw it right back in their court, saying, 'This is what we want, act on it,'" Mr. Lelpi said.
Nikki Stern, who lost her husband when hijacked planes slammed into the towers, said the level of public wariness was understandable.
"People are distrustful when politics and money come together that the public interest will be properly served," said Mrs. Stern, who is a member of the development corporation's families advisory council.
More than 500 professional "meeting facilitators," from as far afield as Afghanistan, South Africa and Colombia, helped mediate the debate, while the presence of 25 grief counselors underlined the sensitivity of the subject matter.
New York municipal and state officials are anxious to avoid any deep public rift over the redevelopment issue, especially Gov. George Pataki, who is standing for election this year.
The main challenge is to balance the sensibilities of the victims' families and community activists with the desire to rebuild and revitalize the battered economy of lower Manhattan.
The officials who attended yesterday's meeting vowed to consider the participants' concerns and re-examine their proposals, but gave no other commitments.

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