NEW YORK CITY-After a three-year period of promises, letdowns and lawsuits, the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan took a stride forward Sunday as the cornerstone was placed for the Freedom Tower. New York Governor George E. Pataki, New Jersey Governor James R. McGreevey, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and World Trade Center master leaseholder Larry A. Silverstein unveiled the 20-ton granite block before an assembly of state and city officials, clergy, Downtown community leaders and families who lost relatives on Sept. 11.

The cornerstone is dated “July Fourth 2004″ and inscribed “To honor and remember those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 and as a tribute to the enduring spirit of freedom.” While rich with patriotic gestures, the event lacked any direct reference to the tower’s turbulent development or its predicted impact on the Lower Manhattan real estate market.

Kicking-off the ceremony’s opening remarks, Pataki said, “Today, in less than three years, we have more than just plans on paper. We place here today the cornerstone, the foundation, of a new tower. A new soaring tribute that will climb 1,776 feet high, marking the year of our nation’s birth and proudly declaring our steadfast allegiance to freedom.”

Silverstein noted the Freedom Tower’s construction will “serve as a testament to a determination, resilience and resolve.” He added: “At the end of the day, we’re going to look back with tremendous pride and devotion at what we’ve accomplished.”

“By laying this magnificent cornerstone of hope, we are reaffirming life at Ground Zero. For the tenth time in history, the world’s tallest building will rise in Lower Manhattan,” Bloomberg added.

McGreevey declared, “This building will stand as our generation’s greatest declaration, that America not only withstands the most severe assaults, but also emerges from such trials committed to reach higher levels than previously envisioned.”

Although the cornerstone is now in-ground, official construction will not begin until sometime later this year when the remnants of the former World Trade Center parking garage are removed. Then, prior to the laying of the foundation, test borings will be conducted at the site. In early 2005, construction begins on the WTC Transportation Hub. Steel for the Freedom Tower is expected to rise by 2006, with initial occupancy and opening of the building by late 2008 or early 2009.

When complete, the Freedom Tower will contain 2.6 million sf of office space on 72 floors. The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. estimates construction will create $15 billion in total economic output in New York City and an average of 8,000 full-time jobs each year until 2015. Silverstein has previously noted he expects a second office building on the site in 2010 and one each year until five are completed by 2013.