A Day of Rebuilding at New York’s Ground Zero

While in New York, I was thrilled to check out the High Line, a newly expanded elevated park that’s captivated city-dwellers. But there’s bigger and more meaningful construction happening downtown, at the site of the former World Trade Center-and the soon-to-be home of the new World Trade Center.

With my videographer, Stephen Greenwood, I booked a 17th-floor room at the Millenium Hilton hotel, directly across from and facing the site. With a couple of cameras, we set out to capture a day’s worth of work at the newly rising office complex and the memorial to the attacks of September 11, 2001, the latter of which is scheduled to open by the 10th anniversary of that day.

Here’s what we saw.

Traveling the American Road – A Day at Ground Zero


“Ground Zero Mosque” reality check

We’ve all heard about it–the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”. Journalists, bloggers, and pretty much everyone else have been screaming at each other about whether it should open or not. All but absent from the debate, however, are hard facts.

Now the Village Voice has published an angry article with facts about the Ground Zero Mosque. First off, it’s a community center as well as a mosque. Secondly, it’s not at Ground Zero. The article has a map showing the proposed community center is two-and-a-half blocks away from Ground Zero at 51 Park Place. Even more revealing are photos of what’s also in the vicinity of Ground Zero–a Burger King, a bookie, and a titty bar. Nobody has called these places disrespectful to the memory of the victims.

Village Voice writer Foster Kamer goes off on people from outside New York City making judgments about the Park51 project, pointing out that the community center will have a 9/11 memorial and saying that people who want to stifle freedom of religion are almost as bad as terrorists. He also reminds us that dozens of Muslims were killed in the 9/11 attacks, including an NYPD cadet. Kamer then rips into the commercialization of Ground Zero. Thousands of tourists flock to it every year, feeding a small industry of guided tours and souvenir stands selling Chinese-made memorabilia. There’s even a hotel that’s using its proximity to Ground Zero as a selling point.

One thing Kamer doesn’t include, however, is a link to the Park51 project, so here it is. The site details what the developers are planning to do with the property.

Is an Islamic community center an appropriate thing to have two-and-a-half blocks away from Ground Zero? Is a titty bar? Is Ground Zero tourism respectful or simply ghoulish? Tell us what you think in the comments section.


Photo of 45-51 Park Place courtesy Gryffindor via Wikimedia Commons.

Hotel Review: The World Center Hotel, first hotel to open at Ground Zero

When I told people where I was going and what I was doing, the same three words continued to make their way into different conversations: redevelop, rebuild and revitalization. I hadn’t been to lower Manhattan since before Sept. 11, 2001, and quite frankly I had no plans to return. I remember where I was on 9/11, what I did and what happened next, and I wondered how, in this lifetime, we would survive the tragedy that just struck our great city. Two months later, I headed to Washington DC to report on the rebuilding efforts in our nation’s capital. Ten years later, business came calling, and I was headed down to Ground Zero and the site of the World Trade Center.

What I saw was a hotel with a purpose, and an overwhelming a sense of pride in its employees — they were proud to be open and thrilled to be part of the revitalization efforts of lower Manhattan

The purpose: A walkthrough of the World Center Hotel, which officially opens June 9 on Washington Street at the southern edge of the World Trade Center rectangle. The hotel has unrestricted views of the construction happening to rebuild, redevelop and revitalize lower Manhattan, including views of the Freedom Tower and National 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Cheryl Palmer, corporate vice president of revenue and product development of the World Center Hotel, spoke on behalf of the hotel’s opening.

“The overall response has been very positive for us. We are under a soft opening and since the opening we’ve been running very strong from an occupancy standpoint. We’re about to open the View of the World Terrace Pub and that has also evoked a positive response,” said Palmer. “There are some challenges with the construction in the area … but the construction is a sign of the rebuilding and revitalization – it shows the progress that’s been made. There are no surprises in terms of out location.”

The hotel was under development pre-9/11 and the developers and management “stayed committed to the project through all the challenges,” said Palmer.

I’ll admit I was skeptical. I wasn’t sure how I would feel seeing all of this for the first time, and having to take pictures to document it. I wasn’t sure how travelers would feel about it, either. What I saw was a hotel with a purpose, and an overwhelming a sense of pride in its employees — they were proud to be open and thrilled to be part of the revitalization efforts of lower Manhattan. So, I stepped inside the elevator and went on the tour of the first hotel to open at Ground Zero.

%Gallery-94655%The Rooms

The rooms are perfectly simple – nothing fancy or frilly here, but a great place for business travelers. Light wood serves as the frame for desks, beds, tables and furniture, which brightens up the smallish space. Shades of blues and greens accent the room on the bedspreads and the sofas (sofas are only part of the hotel’s suites). The standard size room comes with a desk equipped with plenty of outlets, in-room free Internet, coffee service, electronic temperature controls, and iPod docking stations.

For all the construction happening outside the bedroom windows, it was surprisingly quiet in the rooms (kudos to the architects and designers). The deluxe suites feature the same amenities as the standard rooms, but come with a sitting area that includes a pull-out sofa.

The hotel claims the deluxe rooms are big enough to hold meetings in – while there is a ‘sitting area’ in the deluxe rooms, I think the rooms are a little too small for a ‘meeting.’ However, the rooms are big enough for a private workout – an amenity the hotel offers. Request fitness equipment in the privacy of your room, and it will be delivered.

Your view will depend on your room. I toured the rooms with views of the construction, and was immediately taken aback by the realization of what I was seeing. You can (and will if you’re in one of these rooms) lie on your bed and watch the rebuilding happen. It’s surreal and overwhelming, and also somewhat inspiring.

The Bathrooms

All the rooms come with a standing shower; only a handful feature full tubs. Each bathroom is stocked with the basic amenities – shampoo, conditioner, soap and other toiletries. There’s nothing fancy here, but it’s functional.

The Amenities

In my opinion, the amenities are what sell this hotel. Guests enjoy:

  • Complimentary high-speed Internet access throughout the hotel
  • 24-hour concierge service
  • Instant registration and checkout thanks to computers in the lobby
  • Complimentary use of computers with Internet access and network printers in the lobby
  • Same day dry cleaning and laundry service
  • 24-hour menu delivery from select neighborhood restaurants
  • Fitness room and exercise equipment delivered to guestrooms, for those who don’t want to workout at the hotel’s fitness center
  • Complimentary chilled bottled water stations on every floor

Additionally, the hotel is LEED ‘gold’ certified for environmentally sustainable design, construction and operation. There are energy saving programs and electrical appliances throughout the hotel and renewable materials were used in the construction of the hotel.

The Club

The View of the World Terrace Club, located on the hotel’s top floor, is bound to be a meeting mecca. Opening officially with the hotel on June 7, the terrace club features spectacular views of the memorials, the Manhattan skyline, the Hudson River and surprisingly, New Jersey.

“As a guest staying in the hotel you’ll take advantage of all the amenities in the club,” said Palmer. “We’ll host events that overlook the river including wine and cheese parties, music events, and business social events.”

It was surprising to take in the views, actually. Turn one way and you’re looking down at the 9/11 construction site and the building of the Freedom Tower; turn another way, and you have breathtaking views of the water, complete with boats if you head up to the balcony at the right time of day.

The Bottom Line

The World Center Hotel is a great addition to the revitalization efforts of lower Manhattan. Its location to dozens of corporate headquarters makes it an easy choice for business travelers, and one can’t beat the amenities that comes with the rooms. I realize that those staying at the hotel aren’t New Yorkers and might not have the same emotional pull as I had to its location, however, I’m quite certain any guest will feel proud to stay among the rebuilding of one of New York’s greatest neighborhoods.

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Ground Zero hotel’s ‘selling point’ creates controversy

A new Manhattan hotel is marketing its proximity to Ground Zero as a selling point, and creating a stir among those trying to preserve the memory of friends and family lost during the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The World Center Hotel, opened by Club Quarters Inc., is currently accepting reservations for its rooms that boast “floor-to-ceiling ‘window walls’” offering “unfettered views of the rising Freedom Tower and National 9/11 Memorial & Museum,” according to the hotel’s Web site.

In response to the controversy, the hotel issued this statement to Fox News:

“We at the World Center Hotel reference our location on our website and in our marketing because our location is an important part of our hotel’s identity. The World Center Hotel, being across from both the World Financial Center and the rising World Trade Center, was designed primarily for business travelers, but leisure travelers also appreciate our downtown location.

“Some guests may feel emotional about the proximity to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, however, and choose not to stay at our hotel. Others are encouraged that, after so many years, the site is finally being transformed into a fitting Memorial, and they want to see the progress being made there.

“Either reaction is entirely legitimate. We feel strongly that business and economic growth is good for our city, and that the rebirth of downtown New York City does not in any way diminish the remembrance of the tragic events of nearly nine years ago. We are very respectful of the emotions involved, and we share them. But, we are also proud to be a part of the long-term revitalization of Lower Manhattan.”

While Manhattanites continue to protest the PR campaign put forth by the hotel, the 169-room hotel continues to market to the 7.1 million people that are estimated to visit the 9/11 Memorial Preview site when it officially opens.

New York City bargain destination perfect for a 3-day weekend

New York City may be the most expensive place to live, but if you like to walk; it’s a bargain to visit. Arrive by Friday late afternoon, and by Sunday evening you can knock off most of the must see places and eat without spending much money. By the end, you’ll know a good bit of what makes this city so grand.

I recently tested out this method with a friend of my daughter’s who is a high school exchange student from Germany. She wanted to see New York and I’m always up for a trip. We did stay with my brother, but I do have two budget hotel suggestions that have been used by people I know.

When going to New York, have a point of orientation. Mine is Union Square located at East 14th Street and Broadway. Union Square is a hub where the subway station below ground offers trains in every direction and the park above is a gathering place of street vendors, a community farmers market and people out for a stroll depending upon the season and the day. In December, there’s a wonderful holiday market with creative, high quality items from around the world.

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This is where we began our New York jaunt on a Friday morning about 10 a.m. after arriving at LaGuardia from Columbus in time for the first bus into Manhattan. (The shuttle bus from LaGuardia drops passengers outside Grand Central Station. We took the #6 subway downtown to the Union Square stop. The roundtrip bus ticket is $21,)

Day 1

From Union Square, after dropping our things at my brother’s), we walked down Broadway to Ground Zero, a place I had been avoiding ever since September 11. The walk led us through Washington Square Park, New York University and the gallery district of SoHo. Along the way, we window shopped and admired the architecture. The American Thread Company, 260 W. Broadway is one that caught our eye in particular. The building gave me a chance to point out the city’s industrial past and imagine life in NYC during the late 1900s.

Ground Zero is now a bustling construction site where it’s possible to peek through the fence to see the progress of the new girders. Along the outside fence are building plans. As devastating as the area feels, there’s also a sense of renewal and hope.

The other World Trade Center buildings are still bustling with commerce. The 3 World Financial Center-American Express Building is a wonderful mix of office building and shopping mall. With Christmas approaching, Santa was busy listening to children’s wish lists. I couldn’t help notice how the holiday lights, poinsettias and Christmas tree inside the building inside were such a contrast to what occurred outside eight years ago. From the top of the steps in the atrium, there’s an excellent view of the construction site.

The American Express building also has a small display of the history of American Express. I particularly enjoyed the brochures that were developed to entice people to travel to far off places. On the second floor, above where the museum is located, notice the four murals. Each is of a major city in one part of the world. Venice, Istanbul and Rio De Janeiro are three of them. I think the 4th is Hong Kong. The title plate was behind a barrier so we couldn’t read it. People who work in the building who I asked about the mural didn’t know either.

From here we walked along the river to Battery Park where we purchased tickets to Liberty and Ellis Island. The walk on this end of Manhattan will take you by lovely apartment buildings and public spaces. Of note is the right before you arrive at the ferry terminal for the Statue of Liberty. There is construction site fencing around most of it, but the quotes from famous people added uplift to the day.

After a short wait, we were on an early afternoon ferry headed for the Statue of Liberty. The $12 ticket purchased at the booth operated by the National Park Service covers the ferry ride to Liberty Island and Ellis Island which includes the museum. We arrived at Liberty Island with enough time to walk around Lady Liberty and spend a few minutes in the gift shop before taking the next ferry to Ellis Island.

By this time we were starved, so after seeing the free movie about the history of Ellis Island’s past as the gateway for immigrants, we bought lunch at the café. A bowl of chicken soup cost $4.50.

By 4:00 p.m. we were back in Manhattan heading to Union Square to meet up with my dad and my brother, then off to the Museum of Modern Art-MOMA. On Fridays from 4:00-8:00, the museum is free. To get from 2nd Ave. and 14th Street, two blocks from Union Square, we took a taxi–$17 including a tip.

From MOMA it’s a short walk down 5th Avenue to Rockefeller Center and across the street from there is St. Patrick’s Cathedral. During Christmas, be prepared to be jostled a bit while you look at the center’s Christmas tree and watch the ice skaters. Give skating a pass. It is not budget travel.

Next stop, back to Union Square via subway where we headed to Chat ‘NChew, 10 East 16th St. for a late dinner. Chat ‘NChew’s specialty is comfort food. I ate the red beans and rice-a dish under $5.

Day 2

First stop, Union Square’s holiday craft bazaar where I bought non-alcoholic glugg for $2.50 before we headed to the School of Visual Arts Gallery via subway which took us to Chelsea. The walk was the chance to see the transition from a working class neighborhood to a warehouse district that has been changed to gallery spaces.

From there we walked to the Empire State Building on 34th Street, passing Madison Square Gardens and Penn Station along the way.

Before getting in line for our tickets to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, we ducked across the street to buy a slice of NY style pizza for $3.50. I had the spinach and feta cheese variety. When I forked over the $20 admission to the Empire State building, I swallowed the ticket price by seeing it as a contribution to preserving American history. The Art Deco architectural details are splendid.

We were blessed with a clear night so I was able to point out various buildings and bridges. Look for Times Square and the Statue of Liberty. The Chrysler Building is obvious.

Next was a walk past the Macy’s windows decked out for Christmas on our way to Times Square and Broadway. As always, there’s a surprise on some corner in New York. The biggest one this time was at Broadway where the annual Santa pub crawl was in full swing There were hundreds of people dressed up like Santa Claus milling about in the midst of .the flashing neon.

After our Christmas spirit fix, off we headed back to Union Square and a walk to Hollywood Diner at 16th Street and 6th Avenue. If you’re with another person, split the appetizer platter. The mozzarella sticks, chicken wings and chicken fingers cost us less than $6 a piece.

Day 3

After breakfast on-the-go at Chomp on 14th Street near 2nd Avenue where a small cup of coffee and a bagel is $2 we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art via the # 6 train. The museum has a suggested admission price of $20 for adults, but you can pay what you want.. Don’t feel cheap if you pay less. I do. For a trip through the best of the world’s cultural and artistic riches, here’s the place. My favorite exhibit was The Amercans, photographsby Robert Frank who created a photo essay of his travels across the United States from1955 to 1956.

At the other side of Central Park from the Metropolitan is the American Museum of Natural History. We stopped here long enough to see the atrium where part of the movie “Night at the Museum” was filmed. The two large dinosaur skeletons make an impression. Since I had been here two weeks before and we were limited on time, this stop was brief.

The walk through Central Park took us past the Delacorte Theater, home Shakespeare in the Park in the summer. We stopped long enough to take a picture of a couple who had just become engaged. They made a fetching site and asked us to take their picture when we passed by.

Next on the list was The Dakota where John Lennon was killed. The building is not well marked. The entrance is on off of Central Park West.

From here it was on to Grand Central Station where we stopped by the holiday crafts show, the whispering wall and the train museum. The whispering wall is by the food court on the ground floor. Look for two arches in an entry way. If one person stands on one end of an arch and another person stands at the other, you can hear each other talk, even if you’re whispering. Face the wall for it to work.

Next stop Chinatown and dinner at the Shanghai Café. on Mott Street. There were four of us. We had an order of steamed pork dumplings, chicken lo mein, chicken fried rice and a broccoli dish. The bill came to $24. From Chinatown, we headed up Mulberry Street through Little Italy. In a few blocks we came to Umbertos Clam House where we split a carafe of red wine and the high schooler had a cappuchino. The bill came to about $25, as much as dinner. No bargain, but a lovely way to end the evening. The half carafe would have been plenty.

With an early afternoon flight, we headed to the bus stop at Grand Central for the 11:00 a.m. (or thereabouts) bus and had enough time to go to the New York Public Library. Because you can’t take luggage inside, I waited outside for my high school friend to visit. She proclaimed it to be the most wonderful library she has ever seen and marveled that it was free. The library has rotating exhibits so it is always worth a stop.

So there you have it. New York City on the cheap. In all we, spent about $18 each on subway rides. I lost track.

For an inexpensive place to stay near Union Square, try Hotel 17 or the Seafarers International House..

The only place on the high schooler’s list that we did not see was Tiffany’s but we did see Tiffany stained glass windows at the Metropolitan. She also hoped to see the Naked Cowboy, but all those Santas made up for it.