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New York lays cornerstone for Freedom Tower

Groundbreaking less than three years after 9/11


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NEW YORK (CNN) -- In an emotional ceremony Sunday, New York laid the cornerstone for the new Freedom Tower, promising it will reclaim the city's skyline, altered after the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001.

"Today is indeed a momentous day," said Gov. George Pataki at the ceremony to break ground for what is designed to be the world's tallest skyscraper, which will stand where the World Trade Center once stood.

"Today we take 20 tons of Adirondack granite -- the bedrock of our state -- and place it as the foundation, the bedrock of a new symbol of American strength and confidence. Today, we lay the cornerstone for a new symbol of this city and this country and of our resolve in the face of terror."

An inscription on the cornerstone read, "To honor and remember those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001 and as a tribute to the enduring spirit of freedom -- July Fourth 2004."

The skyscraper is expected to be 1,776 feet tall, so designed to mark the year of American independence. Initial occupancy is scheduled for 2008.

About 500 invited guests attended Sunday's ceremony -- 100 of them family members of those killed in the September 11 attacks. The 13-year-old son of a Port Authority police officer who died in the attacks read the Declaration of Independence and was the one speaker to receive a standing ovation.

"As we lay this cornerstone, we remember that the liberties, which are the bedrock of our nation, can never be shaken by violence or hate," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

"By laying this magnificent cornerstone of hope, we are sending a message to the people around the world that freedom will always prevail. The war on terror that we now fight requires courage and our freedoms will always be the source of our courage."

Daniel Libeskind, designer of the master plan for the World Trade Center site, added, "We commemorate not only the physical restoration of the site, we also celebrate the strength and resilience of the human spirit. This magnificent Freedom Tower ... will inspire New York, America and the entire world with the ideals of liberty and democracy."

While the sentiments were widely shared, some families of September 11 victims have criticized those in charge of the rebuilding effort for sidestepping historic preservation and a professed commitment not to rebuild on the acre-wide squares where the twin towers were anchored -- known as their "footprints."

"We are not opposed to the rebuilding moving forward" said Anthony Gardner, whose brother Harvey was killed inside the south tower. "We just don't want it to move forward and the physical remains of the footprints to be destroyed in that process."

Freedom Tower, designed as a torqued glass and steel tower, will include a 276-foot spire and a broadcast antenna that will brings its total height to more than 2,000 feet.

The CN Tower in Toronto, which Canada claims as the world's tallest free-standing structure, is 1,815 feet.

CNN's Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.


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