February 22, 2005 | David Shuster

America's Freedom Tower?

This week, New York City is rolling out its bid for the 2012 Olympic games. The bid includes proposed sporting venues, hotels, housing complexes, and office space in midtown Manhattan, New Jersey, and many of the city's boroughs. But lower Manhattan, the part of the city most recognizable around the world (until terrorists brought down the Twin Towers on 9/11) is totally and completely ignored. The proposed replacement known as the Freedom Tower is not mentioned or shown anywhere in the city's Olympic materials.

Talk about a lack of pride. 88 nations lost citizens in the WTC attacks on 9/11. Can you imagine an Olympic games 11 years after 9/11, where America's message to the world is, "Our most sacred piece of property is not even worth a mention or visit?

If New York's Olympic bid committee is ashamed of the proposed Freedom Tower, the committee is not alone. One year ago, Donald Trump called the proposed tower "a 50 story building that looks like it's 120 stories." "It's a skeleton," Trump said, "and that's the last thing we need in New York is a skeleton representing the World Trade Center."

One of the workers from the WTC restaurant "Windows on the World" said that in memory of his colleagues and friends who were trapped and died on the 102nd floor... there is "no way" he will ever run a "Windows on the World" that sits on any building's 68th floor. (The "occupied space" of the Freedom Tower will be at least 30 stories shorter than the WTC towers.)

And just to remind you, Rudy Giuliani (who has been notably absent from every Freedom Tower event) has privately told friends he is "embarassed" by the design. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is said to have privately described the Freedom Tower a "disappointment." And members of the NYPD and the NYFD have openly declared the proposal to be an "embarassment."

So, why is the Freedom Tower moving forward? In going back through the selection process pushed forward by New York Governor George Pataki, I've been struck by a number of irregularities. All six of the final proposed WTC replacement designs were widely described by media articles two years ago as a "disappointment." Polls suggested the least disappointing of the final six was a scaffolding type rendition of the Twin Towers by an architect named Rafael Vignoli. But after secret meetings involving the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Vignoli's design still came in as the "runner up" in the final selection. How did the Freedom Tower beat Vignoli's design? One of my reporting colleagues tells a chilling story about having set up an interview with Vignoli, who at first seemed eager to talk about his "view" of the selection process. The next day, just before the interview was supposed to take place, the architect's secretary called and said something along the lines of, "Mr. Vignoli is satisifed to have made it this far and has decided he will not be doing any interviews." Click. What changed? Mr. Vignoli and his associates are still not talking to reporters.

But never mind all of that for the moment... last week's blog [click and scroll down] generated an avalanche of e-mails. A few of you suggested I was too hard on Libeskind's Freedom Tower design, given that he offers the latest architectural and artistic principles and that "every building" faces some engineering challenges. Maybe so. However, most of you said the real issue is that the Twin Towers should be rebuilt. Anything less, you suggested, would be a victory for Al-Qaeda and a permanent shame.

Peter Walukiewicz wrote that he lost friends in the WTC on 9/11 and that "rebuilding the Twin Towers is the ultimate tribute to our fallen heroes... I can't think of a more powerfrul affirmation of our strength and resolve."

Tracy DiNardo, who lost a friend in the NYFD on 9/11, said "the towers should be built again as they were before with all necessary updates."

And one Hardblogger reader suggested, "Imagine the pride that would sweep across this nation as a modern, stronger, and taller version of the Twin Towers started rising again in the sky over Manhattan..."

The image of a new Twin Towers, slightly off-set from where the old ones stood, has already been embraced by several architects and designers. My question is, what do you think? Take a look at the photos for a "Twin Towers" design and compare it to the design planned for the "Freedom Tower."

There is a lot we've been uncovering about the politics behind the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the group in charge of Ground Zero. I'll have more on that aspect of this story later in the week. Stay tuned.