Big Boost For The Big Apple

American Express workers applaud at a ceremony marking the company's return to its corporate headquarters near the World Trade Center site in New York on May 13, 2002. American Express, whose building was damaged in the September 11, 2001 attack on the twin towers, has been operating out of seven temporary locations in the tri-state area. REUTERS

New York City's struggle to return to normalcy following the Sept. 11 attacks took a big step forward Monday as American Express reopened its corporate headquarters a block from the World Trade Center site.

Hundreds of AMEX employees celebrated the return to their World Financial Center offices as the company announced a new five-month arts festival designed to help revitalize Lower Manhattan.

The building, like the whole neighborhood, was heavily damaged and deemed unsafe, until now, reports CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts.

"Clearly it has changed our lives forever, I'll never forget that day. But I also believe that we will emerge not only a strong company, but a strong nation," said said Kenneth Chenault, chairman and chief executive of American Express.

"Today is the defining moment in the 152-year history of American Express. Today we come home," said Chenault.

About 4,000 American Express employees were dispersed to locations around the tri-state area following Sept. 11. The workers began returning last week and will continue to come back gradually until September.

For Kara Vlahos, coming back brought back memories.

"When I got off the ferry, I had a little meltdown. It was really overwhelming."

From 41-stories high, Vlahos and her colleagues have a bird's-eye view of history – then and now.

"I wanted to prove to terrorists all over the world that they can't beat the American spirit and especially the New York spirit of rebuilding," she said.

The homecoming was one of several signals that the rebirth of lower Manhattan is under way. In the terror-scarred neighborhood near the World Trade Center, schoolchildren fill the sidewalks again, stores are reopening and a movie house is welcoming back customers with $2 tickets.

And the grim business of finishing the cleanup Of Ground Zero – the area where the twin towers stood – is expected to be completed within a few days.

The return of American Express is part of a bigger plan to revitalize Lower Manhattan, from workers to tourists. A $7 million arts festival starts next week. It's an economic and emotional boost for a neighborhood where thousands lost jobs and businesses went under after Sept. 11.

"Lower Manhattan is going to be a major center for New York, for America, for the world," said New York Gov. George Pataki.

Last week, the entertainment world took center stage. The Tribeca Film Festival attracted stars and star-watchers. The upcoming River to River Arts Festival is scheduled to attract more than a million visitors.

For months people had come to Lower Manhattan to see, where so much was lost and too many died. The goal now is to see the rebirth of a place still bruised but not broken.
  • Joel Roberts

Comments