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Future of site still beset by debate

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 5, 2002

NEW YORK -- It's late afternoon, and tourists are swarming around the "hallowed ground" where the World Trade Center once stood as if tickets just went on sale for a hit Broadway show.

NEW YORK -- It's late afternoon, and tourists are swarming around the "hallowed ground" where the World Trade Center once stood as if tickets just went on sale for a hit Broadway show.

In their midst, Lee Ielpi makes a terrific tour guide in the grimmest of ways.

"See where those men are working? That is where my son's body was," he said, pointing to a spot inside the fence-encircled pit near where the north tower once stood.

Ielpi, 58, a retired fire captain who in December carried the body of his firefighter son Jonathan, 29, from the wreckage, has been an almost daily presence at ground zero since Sept. 11.

In the beginning, Ielpi's work here was physical. His determination to find his son's remains made him a symbol of strength to those who lost loved ones.

More recently, Ielpi has emerged as a voice for many of the family members in the debate on what should become of the World Trade Center site.

He and other family members have pushed for the protection of the twin towers' "footprints" from bedrock to the air over the site. The footprint is "sacred ground," he says.

Others disagree. The planning for a memorial has laid bare a tangle of unending grief, cultural chasms, distrust of government and pure and simple rage among a host of disparate groups.

The question of how much acreage the memorial will cover, what it will look like and what elements it will include will fall to the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New York Gov. George E. Pataki and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

But precisely who will make which decisions, and how, remains to be determined.

Some victims' relatives want the memorial to be centered on the footprints. Others are clamoring for the entire 16-acre site.

A memorial drafted by a families' advisory council includes an eternal flame, a tomb for unidentified remains, the damaged sculpture formerly in the trade center plaza and a wall bearing the names of the victims of the trade center attacks of 1993 and Sept. 11, as well as those killed in Washington and Pennsylvania.

However, nearby residents have not been shy about voicing their largest fear: that constant references to "hallowed ground" means that a memorial will most of all resemble a cemetery.

"The people who live down here are pioneers," said Liz Berger. Many moved in long before the area had decent services or decent apartments, she said, adding: "We are going to be living in the memorial. We want to figure out how to remain in a living place."

While most victims' families want open space dedicated as a memorial, residents want land used for parks, where children can play without people fearing that the feelings of the bereaved are being trampled upon.

Many people, from the mayor to community advocates, also want housing at the site, and many of those want it to be for low- or middle-income residents.

But many business owners and developers have shown little interest in anything but high-price housing. Wealthier residents lead to a higher scale of retail stores and higher rents.

As the debate rages on, Ielpi remains a fixture at ground zero.

He passes out bookmarks bearing his son's photograph and the Fireman's Prayer.

"This is what we are all left to do now," he said wearily. "We pass out pictures so no one forgets."

-- Compiled from reports by Cox News Service and the New York Times.

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