Thursday, December 14, 2006

NEW YORK — The bankers, traders and residents of Lower Manhattan are about to find out what it’s like to be in the vortex of the most concentrated construction zone in New York City’s history.

As many as 9,000 trucks a month will rumble through the district, hauling concrete, glass and metal. The amount of steel earmarked for the area will be enough to build Kuala Lumpur’s twin 88-story Petronas Towers more than six times.

Most of the supplies will be headed over the next five years for ground zero, the site of the destroyed World Trade Center that will be home to the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, five adjacent skyscrapers, a transportation center and a memorial to the victims of September 11.

About 50 Lower Manhattan projects, costing $20 billion, are planned or under way, including the ground zero construction, a new headquarters for Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and new underground water pipes, subway stations, parks and residential buildings. Getting around will become a challenge.

“The amount of construction that’s ongoing in one square mile is unprecedented,” said Charles Maikish, 60, a former JPMorgan Chase & Co. vice president who now heads the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center. “The Trade Center site itself is the epicenter.”

The command center is a city-state agency overseeing the neighborhood’s development, including any project south of Canal Street costing more than $25 million.

On Nov. 17, more than two years after the Adirondack granite cornerstone for Freedom Tower was laid, 70 trucks lumbered into ground zero to begin pouring the concrete base for the building.

The construction, involving a peak labor force of 7,100, will disrupt the lives of more than 438,000 daily mass-transit commuters for the next five years, according to LiRo Group, a New York construction management company working with the city command center.

Merrill Lynch & Co., whose headquarters overlook ground zero, already lists neighborhood road closures and demolition projects in its monthly employee newsletter.

“We get our employees and clients in and out,” said Mike Cowan, senior vice president for the world’s biggest brokerage firm. “And our employees are a pretty rugged bunch.”

Merrill Lynch is holding talks to move its headquarters to a new building on the World Trade Center site, according to two persons with knowledge of the discussions. Merrill spokeswoman Selena Morris said the company, whose lease expires in 2013, is “evaluating our options.”

Goldman Sachs plans to begin moving into its new $2 billion, 43-story headquarters a few blocks away by 2009.

This month, trucks began delivering 3,000 tons of steel beams for the base of Freedom Tower. The beams, each up to 40 feet long and weighing as much as 35 tons, were made in Luxembourg by Arcelor. The Luxembourg company has one of only three or four foundries in the world equipped to handle steel beams that size.

The beams were then sent to Lynchburg, Va., where they were trimmed and welded by another company, Banker Steel LLC, which handled the steel for the original twin towers.

The command center has coordinated details such as controlling the number of trucks rolling through Manhattan at any one time and determining what streets are wide enough for them, said Josh Rosenbloom, 28, director of city operations at the center.

Sensors throughout the area, using video cameras and microwave technology, will measure the volume of vehicles and their speed, Mr. Rosenbloom said, helping police to fix traffic snags.

“Everyone has to work together to maintain mobility,” said Mr. Rosenbloom. “Otherwise the whole thing will come to a screeching halt.”

Once in Manhattan, trucks, supplies and workers headed for the 16-acre World Trade Center site must pass security inspections.

Carmine Castellano, construction superintendent for Freedom Tower, said he has never been on a site like this one in more than 20 years in the business. Mr. Castellano said guards search his crews’ trucks daily. Identification badges, which are issued after a background check and a training class, must be visible at all times.

“You’ve got to have patience,” he said. “Think of where you’re working and what we’re building.”

Jake Zamansky, a principal in the Zamansky & Associates law firm, lives and works in Tribeca — now a quiet neighborhood just north of ground zero.

“It’s going to be hard to live and work down here for a while,” Mr. Zamansky said. “It was really a disaster in those first couple of months after September 11. All day and night, every major artery was being used to take the debris out.”

When the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center in the 2001 terrorist attack, Mr. Zamansky said he watched from his office four blocks away. Today, he said, he can put up with any inconvenience to build the area back up.

“It’s definitely worth it, number one, to show the terrorists that they haven’t succeeded in changing the face of New York on a permanent basis,” he said. “They haven’t been able to dislodge me. My whole life is downtown.”

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