NEW YORK – For years before Sept. 11, 2001, the World Trade Center neighborhood buzzed during the day but became a ghost town at night. It was a neighborhood that worked more than it lived.

But now, with rebuilding partly under way at the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the balance has shifted.

On Stone Street, several blocks south of Ground Zero, $2.3 million in public and private investment has turned what was once a haven for drug dealers into a bustling outdoor European-style plaza. The street was repaved with cobblestones and closed to traffic. Diners can eat inside or out at picnic tables, with menu options including French pastries and hamburgers.

Other signs of rebirth abound. Celebrity architects Frank Gehry and Santiago Calatrava are both designing residential and commercial buildings nearby – with the penthouse at Calatrava’s proposed apartment complex on South Street going for $50 million. The average one-bedroom apartment in the Financial District fetches a rent of $2,430, compared with a $2,295 average in Manhattan overall, according to broker Citi Habitats.

Since shortly before the attacks, the number of residents in the Wall Street area has nearly doubled, from 15,000 to about 27,000, according to the Alliance for Downtown New York, a local business group. The alliance predicts that the population will rise 21 percent more, coinciding with the completion of 11,000 housing units planned for the area.

Money that Congress committed to Lower Manhattan after the attacks has fueled construction and renovation.

“For all the tragedy that 9/11 brought, it gave us $20 billion to redevelop the neighborhood,” said Richard Kennedy, a longtime neighborhood resident who is senior director at the Wall Street office of the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.

Plans in the next decade for Lower Manhattan call for closing Fulton Street – on the northern edge of the trade center site – to cars to create a pedestrian corridor. Government and business leaders have proposed verdant parks encircling land that abuts the East and Hudson Rivers, and barges on the East River with community amenities such as swimming pools.

But those plans so far exist mostly on paper. Emotional and other fallout of Sept. 11 still haunt the area. Development has proceeded in a herky-jerky fashion.

In the last few months, World Trade Center leaseholder Larry Silverstein and his architects have had to redesign the Freedom Tower – the central skyscraper planned at Ground Zero – to accommodate police officials’ security concerns. Goldman Sachs withdrew plans to put its headquarters in Lower Manhattan but then agreed to go ahead after receiving increased public subsidies and assurance that a proposed traffic tunnel would not empty out near its building.

Silverstein completed construction of 7 World Trade, a 52-story tower across the street from Ground Zero, but the reported signing of a major tenant has yet to be confirmed.

Redevelopment officials are still uncertain whether everything proposed for Ground Zero will materialize. Family members of Sept. 11 victims objected to two proposed museums there, the International Freedom Center and the Drawing Center, saying that displays unrelated to the attacks were not appropriate. As a result, those centers’ fate is in flux.

And while businesses have returned to Lower Manhattan, its commercial vacancy rate is 12 percent, compared with 9 percent overall in Manhattan.

The uncertainty weighs on those who were there four years ago.

Misael Cordoba, owner of La Bamba, a Mexican restaurant on Greenwich Street, behind where the twin towers stood, said business is still off about 30 percent since the attacks.

“Business is nothing after Sept. 11,” he said. He never thought that four years after the horror of that day, he would still be wondering when offices and their workers, his customers, would return to the site.

Tourists who flock to the area daily have provided some buffer. They pose for pictures with firefighters at Ladder 10, the firehouse across the street from the site, which lost five members on Sept. 11. Firefighters let visitors try on their jackets and accept donations to a fund for victims’ families. A sign tells visitors they may take pictures but says, “Please remember that questions about Sept. 11 tend to bring back horrible memories for many firefighters.”

Grief is palpable among visitors, too. Standing beside the vast hole one recent day, David Blazquez of Barcelona, Spain, found few words.

“It’s sad,” he said. “It’s very sad.”


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