By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — The progress at the World Trade Center site is impossible to miss.
From the steel pushing skyward to the young trees taking root in the shadow of swiveling cranes, the once-sleepy site is now changing so rapidly that it looks different from day to day, week to week.
One World Trade Center, which will be the tallest skyscraper in the city when it opens as soon as 2013, has reached the 36th floor. The yawning memorial pools have taken shape in the footprints of the original Twin Towers. And far beneath the street, artifacts of 9/11 wait in echoing chambers for visitors to a museum that could open in as little as two years.
That physical progress, combined with the recent financial deal between the Port Authority and Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein, is finally allowing the 16-acre site to shed its reputation as a quagmire of conflict and indecision.
"All you simply have to do is look outside and see what is happening," Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Still, Ward and other officials warned that the challenges are far from over.
While many portions of the site — including two skyscrapers, a train station, a memorial and a museum — are well underway, other projects remain much more uncertain.
Silverstein cannot build his Tower 2, in the northeast corner of the site, until demand for new office space returns, which could take years. Plans for the Port Authority’s Tower 5, once contemplated as headquarters for JPMorgan Chase, are also in limbo. And fundraising still has not begun for the oft-forgotten performing arts center.
The next year will be a critical one for the Port Authority, as they race to open the memorial plaza as promised on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The Port also has to contend with the site’s interconnected infrastructure, often compared to a Rubik’s cube, which can cause a delay on one project to spread to others.
"There is long and difficult work ahead," Ward said Tuesday. "We will look back and say this was the beginning."