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Under the terms of a January ruling by an arbitration panel, thetwo sides have until Thursday to either reach an agreement or facethe prospect of the panel coming up with its own solution.

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Saying that there's "a moral imperative" to step up work on theproject eight-and-a-half years after the 9/11 attacks, Rep. CarolynMaloney told the audience, "For too long, Ground Zero has beenexhibit A for those who say you can no longer build big in NewYork. We need to prove them wrong."

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Other speakers, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn,Rep. Joseph Crowley and Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer,sounded similar themes. Quinn called it "a disgrace" that theproject hasn't been completed yet. Crowley acknowledged that"there's plenty of blame to go around" for the slow progress atGround Zero, but said the delays cannot continue.

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Alluding to a 2009 study conducted for the Port Authority whichsaid that construction and leasing of the project's commercialcomponents might not be finished until 2037, Crowley asserted,"2037 is too long." The same message was delivered by Rep. GregoryMeeks, as well as by protest signs carried aloft by hardhats in thecrowd.

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The rally was sponsored by the Building and Construction TradesCouncil of Greater New York. A BCTC spokesman puts attendance at "acouple thousand" and says the council is hopeful that the rallyproved effective. The council says that going full speed ahead onconstruction at Ground Zero will mean 10,000 union jobs "and tensof thousands of permanent jobs upon completion."

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A spokesman for SPI tells GlobeSt.com the company has no commenton the rally. Earlier today, the developer denied having a hand inorganizing the gathering, according to the New YorkTimes.

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In recent weeks, the Port and SPI, who have been at odds overthe timetable and financing for construction at Ground Zero formore than a year, have showed signs of coming to terms. Mostrecently, the Port responded to SPI's offer of more skin in thegame with a counter-proposal.

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According to published reports, the Port offered to financiallysupport SPI's first tower, known as Tower 4 and currently underconstruction, and back Tower 3 after the developer pre-leased500,000 of its 2.5 million square feet. In return, the Port wantsSPI to raise $300 million in new private capital, pool theremaining construction funds from tax-free Liberty Bonds and theinsurance money from the 9/11 attacks and continue paying full rentat the site until the insurance proceeds are exhausted.

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Although neither SPI nor the Port would comment on the detailsof the published accounts, an SPI spokesman told GlobeSt.com lastweek that the company is studying the Port's counter-proposal. "Wewill continue to work with the Port Authority and otherstakeholders in order to achieve an agreement that will protect thepublic's interests and ensure the World Trade Center is rebuilt ina timely manner," the spokesman said last week.

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Asked to comment on Tuesday's rally, a spokesman for the PortAuthority forwarded a statement from executive director Chris Ward."An offer is on the table that is responsible, protects publicinterests and gets the entire site moving," says Ward. "The PortAuthority can't do it at the expense of a full public bailout."

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Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny is managing editor of Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com. He has been reporting on business since 1988 and on commercial real estate since 2007. He is based at ALM Real Estate Media Group's offices in New York City.