Developer: Ground Zero a National Disgrace

60 Minutes: Eight Years and Billions of Dollars Later, Part of 9/11 Site is Still Just a Big Hole

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This was the year that Ground Zero was supposed to be transformed into a soaring statement of American spirit. The site of the 9/11 attack on New York was to be a world landmark, bigger than the World Trade Center before it.

Plans were announced for America's tallest tower, its most beautiful rail station and among its most solemn monuments.

So we wondered: why is Ground Zero still a hole in the ground? "60 Minutes" and correspondent Scott Pelley returned to lower Manhattan recently and found that, eight and a half years later, much of Ground Zero is still marking time.

Each year, on September 11, the emotions return. The sorrow, for the 2,752 people murdered there. The sense of 300 million Americans united in one place, and the desire to fight back by filling the void in the heart of New York.

But today, much of Ground Zero is still a pit where there are supposed to be five skyscrapers, a memorial, a museum, a theater and transit hub.

Photos: Haunting Reminders of 9/11
Scott Pelley: What Ever Happened to Ground Zero?
Full Segment: Ground Zero
Web Extra: One World Trade
Web Extra: Where He Was On 9/11
Web Extra: Opportunity Lost

"So when you look out on where this project is after eight years, how would you describe this?" Pelley asked developer Larry Silverstein.

"I describe this as a national disgrace," Silverstein replied. "I am the most frustrated person in the world."

Silverstein is a New York real estate tycoon who believed that he would rebuild Ground Zero. "It's hard to contemplate the amount of time that's gone by here, the tragic waste of time and what could have been instead of what is today," he told Pelley.

Silverstein owns a 99-year lease on the property, which entitled him to rebuild the buildings there. But on the day "60 Minutes" visited with Silverstein, he even had a hard time even getting past the guard.

The holdup at the gate is a symptom of how much the relationship has soured between Silverstein and the government agency that is supposed to be his partner. Ground Zero is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

It's a behemoth of a bureaucracy that answers to the governors and legislatures of both states. The "Port," as it's called, runs bridges, tunnels and airports. The only skyscrapers it ever built were the Twin Towers, 40 years ago.

Today, the Port is responsible for making Ground Zero ready for construction, but it is years behind schedule, billions over budget, and there's no end in sight.

"If you continue going at the rate we're going, these buildings might not be finished until the Port's schedules, which is 2037. Now, I'm 78 years of age. I want to see this thing done in my lifetime," Silverstein said.

Seven years ago, architect Daniel Libeskind was named the winner of the competition to rebuild Ground Zero.

"Libeskind wanted to put a very large tower at the north end of the site," Paul Goldberger, who wrote a book on the project, told Pelley

Goldberger is also the architecture critic for the New Yorker magazine. "He had gardens at the top and this spire going all the way up to 1,776 feet," he explained, looking at a model based on Libeskind's architectural master plan.

"This is what Libeskind's plan looked like in early 2003 when it was chosen," Goldberger said.

"What people in this country thought was going to be built here," Pelley said,

"Yes, so did Libeskind, I think. But it wasn't," he replied.

The trouble started with the tallest tower. Silverstein didn't think the design was sensible as commercial real estate, so he insisted on bringing in a new architect. After a struggle of egos, the curtain was pulled to reveal a second tower design.

But this was the beginning of a pattern: lots of models, no buildings.

Instead of a construction site, Ground Zero became a stage for elaborate but meaningless ground breakings and ribbon cuttings.