NEW YORK » Out of the ashes of 9/11 has risen a vibrant neighborhood packed with new restaurants and hotels, places to live and spots to shop, along with many ways to pay respects to an area some worried would never come back.
A decade after the attack on the World Trade Center, lower Manhattan draws roughly 9 million of the city’s nearly 50 million visitors a year, including the area around ground zero.
The neighborhood now has 18 hotels with more than 4,000 rooms, up from six hotels and 2,300 rooms on Sept. 11, 2001. For many tourists, it’s a must-see, right up there with Times Square and the Statue of Liberty.
"It’s a 24/7 neighborhood," said George Fertitta, chief executive of NYC & Company, the city’s marketing and tourism arm. "It’s a great moment in time for Lower Manhattan."
While local shopping, restaurants and other attractions abound, remembering 9/11 is the primary focus for many visitors. The new memorial at ground zero will open on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy in two weeks. A museum will open at the site a year later under a glass atrium, taking visitors 70 feet down on gentle ramps to the very epicenter of what used to be "the pit."
Ans van de Pasch, 49, of Venlo in southeastern Holland, first visited ground zero three years ago, peeking through masked fences like thousands of others. This summer, the site is more visible and she brought her husband and two teens.
"There’s a different spirit. You can feel the community is back," Pasch said as they walked through the nearby St. Paul’s Chapel, where weary firefighters, police and volunteer rescuers sought refuge during their desperate work in 2001.
She wanted her kids to see the ground zero area for themselves. "It’s very necessary that you can have one moment in your life when you let yourself, as a citizen of the world, stop and think, ‘This must never happen again.’"
Here are some details on visiting the memorial, along with suggestions for other things to do in Lower Manhattan:
» National September 11 Memorial & Museum: The memorial is a big reveal years in the making. Created by design competition winner Michael Arad, who partnered with California landscape architect Peter Walker, it takes up about half of the 16-acre site. Additional office buildings and a new transit hub remain under construction with the museum.
The memorial will be dedicated on Sept. 11 during a ceremony for victims’ families. It opens to the public the following day.
"The fact that this memorial outlines the very footprints where these towers stood sends a message to the world of what we lost that day and how we’ve come together," said 9/11 Memorial President Joe Daniels.
On the twin footprints are gentle waterfalls that empty into massive reflecting pools edged by bronze parapets with the names of the 2,983 people killed on 9/11 in New York, in a field near Shanksville, Pa., and at the Pentagon, along with victims of the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center.
"Could they do it again?" asks 9-year-old Grisham Aleshire of Springfield, Mo. "They have lots of security now," mom Tia reassures.
When the memorial opens, 225 swamp white oak trees will have been planted around the site. More than 400 are planned overall, creating an urban grove. On the west side of the south pool, bordering a small clearing called the memorial glade, stands the "survivor tree." It’s a Callery pear rescued from the rubble and nursed back to health in the Bronx, only to be struck by lightning and survive again last year. President Obama laid a wreath at the tree in May, and new growth on branches that were once almost entirely shorn are thriving.
Access to the site can be confusing as construction continues. Many subway stops, including those at Chambers and Fulton streets, will bring you nearby. Timed tickets (free but required) can be reserved up to six months in advance at www.911memorial.org. About 250,000 passes have already been reserved. Print your tickets beforehand if you can. Enter at the northeast corner of Albany and Greenwich streets for check-in no more than 30 minutes ahead of your reservation.
Through Jan. 8, the memorial is open from 10 a.m. to last entry at 7 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends; From Jan. 9 to March 10, last entry is at 5 p.m.
No restrooms will be available on site until the museum opens in September 2012. The World Financial Center’s glass-enclosed Winter Garden has public restrooms and there are some on the second floor of the Burger King on Liberty Street at Church.
» Tours: The September 11 Families’ Association offers intimate tours led by survivors, 9/11 workers and loved ones of those who perished.
Tracy Gazzani, a retired school teacher from Brooklyn, has done more than 150 of the tours, recounting the life and loss of her 24-year-old son, Terry. He worked a bonds desk at Cantor Fitzgerald on the 104th floor of the north tower.
She spoke haltingly about learning of people who were jumping from the burning towers and her family’s frantic search for Terry in the aftermath. "This is my way of healing," Gazzani said. "My way of helping other people heal, because it’s very important that we all learn to heal."
The tours stop indoors at the World Financial Center buildings for bird’s eye views of ground zero.
Tours ($10, under 12 free) are offered daily from the Tribute WTC Visitor Center, at 120 Liberty St. across from ground zero. Check the tour schedule at www.Tributewtc.org and arrive at least an hour early.
The tours usually include a stop at "11 Tears," honoring 11 American Express employees who died on 9/11, located in the company’s headquarters in the lobby of 3 World Financial Center. Suspended above an 11-sided granite pool is a 600-pound quartz stone, carved into an 11-sided teardrop. Eleven drops of water fall into the pool periodically, creating intersecting ripples. Victims’ names and words chosen by their loved ones are etched on the stone.
» Fire Department Memorial: Next door to the Tribute WTC Visitor Center, outside the firehouse on Greenwich Street at Liberty, is the Fire Department of New York Memorial Wall. The firehouse, home to Ladder Co. 3, Engine Co. 10, lost five firefighters on 9/11, but the wall is a tribute to all firefighters who died. It was a gift from the law firm Holland & Knight and also honors a firm partner, Glenn J. Winuk, a volunteer firefighter and medic from Jericho, N.Y. He helped evacuate the firm’s offices near the World Trade Center, then raced to the towers to help. Winuk died when the south tower collapsed.
» Churches: St. Paul’s Chapel, a small Episcopal church built in 1766, miraculously survived 9/11 just across the street from the World Trade Center. Through May 2002, volunteers ministered around the clock to ground zero workers at the chapel. Now on display, the exhibit "Unwavering Spirit" includes one of many cots set up with hand-knit blankets and stuffed animals during the harrowing work. A collection of uniform patches paying tribute to volunteers from around the world still smells of smoke. Enter through the graveyard, on Church Street, between Vesey and Fulton.
Part of the same Episcopal parish, Trinity Church at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street was another refuge for relief workers. A sculpture in front was made out of a giant sycamore tree destroyed on 9/11.
» The British Garden at Hanover Square: This park honors 67 British subjects who died on 9/11. Queen Elizabeth II, in long sleeves, white gloves and hat, officially opened the park in searing heat last July.