The Ground Zero outrage

“I describe it as a national disgrace.” Larry Silverstein, the 78-year-old New York City real-estate tycoon, shook his head slowly as we stood over the muddy pit known around the world as ground zero. It took three cameramen from 60 Minutes to photograph the expanse of the 16-acre hole that was once the basement of the World Trade Center. True, some construction had begun, but as I stood there with Silverstein looking at rainwater pooling down below, I thought, “Nobody’s gonna believe this.”

According to the plans announced with fanfare seven years ago, Silverstein and I should have been craning our necks at five skyscrapers, including America’s tallest tower. We should have been jostled by commuters surging in and out of a spectacular, $2 billion train station. And, all around us, there should have been a gentle, cascading sound from the 9/11 memorial, two waterfalls laid out in the footprints of the Twin Towers, a whispering reminder of 2,752 people murdered here.

The Ground Zero Outrage

by Scott Pelley
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Scott Pelley

Scott Pelley is a 60 Minutes correspondent.
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Scott Pelley
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BS Top – Pelley WTC Construction Mark Lennihan / AP Photo Nearly a decade after the 9/11 attacks, not one project has been finished at the World Trade Center site. This Sunday on CBS, watch 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley take a trip to the seven-story pit.

“I describe it as a national disgrace.” Larry Silverstein, the 78-year-old New York City real-estate tycoon, shook his head slowly as we stood over the muddy pit known around the world as ground zero. It took three cameramen from 60 Minutes to photograph the expanse of the 16-acre hole that was once the basement of the World Trade Center. True, some construction had begun, but as I stood there with Silverstein looking at rainwater pooling down below, I thought, “Nobody’s gonna believe this.”

According to the plans announced with fanfare seven years ago, Silverstein and I should have been craning our necks at five skyscrapers, including America’s tallest tower. We should have been jostled by commuters surging in and out of a spectacular, $2 billion train station. And, all around us, there should have been a gentle, cascading sound from the 9/11 memorial, two waterfalls laid out in the footprints of the Twin Towers, a whispering reminder of 2,752 people murdered here.

But as we stood near the center of the seven-story pit, none of that was here. Nearly nine years after the attack on Manhattan, not one project was finished. Silverstein, who wears ship propeller cuff links that symbolize his affection for his massive yacht, was supposed to have built those five skyscrapers himself. He ended up with the job after what may be the worst timing in the history of commercial real estate: He signed a 99-year lease on the World Trade Center just six weeks before 9/11. Now he stood over the hole in the heart of Manhattan and spoke in his clipped Brooklyn accent, as though he was revealing a dark, national secret, “It’s hard to contemplate the amount of time that’s gone by here, the tragic waste of time and what could have been instead of what is today.”