US returns to 1 World Trade Center 15 years after attacks

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NEW YORK, Sept 9 (Reuters) - The U.S. federal government on Friday marked its return to the rebuilt 1 World Trade Center, moving its New York City offices back to Lower Manhattan 15 years after the Sept. 11 attacks that had reduced the site to rubble.

"Today is meant to be an uplifting day, a sign of our determination to move forward," said U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson at an event on the 63rd floor.

See iconic images from 9/11

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9/11/2001: 14 most iconic images of 9/11
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9/11/2001: 14 most iconic images of 9/11
The south tower of the World Trade Center, left, begins to collapse after a terrorist attack on the landmark buildings in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Gulnara Samoilova)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 11, 2001: (FILE PHOTO) A fiery blasts rocks the south tower of the World Trade Center as the hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the building September 11, 2001 in New York City. Almost two years after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, the New York Port Authority is releasing transcripts on August 28, 2003 of emergency calls made from inside the twin towers. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Plumes of smoke pour from the World Trade Center buildings in New York Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. Planes crashed into the upper floors of both World Trade Center towers minutes apart Tuesday in a horrific scene of explosions and fires that lead to the collapse of the 110-story buildings. The Empire State building is seen in the foreground. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

Sarasota, UNITED STATES: TO GO WITH AFP STORY 'Americans mark 9/11 anniversary with new questions on vulnerability' - (FILES) US President George W. Bush has his early morning school reading event interupted by his Chief of Staff Andrew Card (L) shortly after news of the New York City airplane crashes was available in Sarasota, Florida 11 September 2001. AFP Photo Paul J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

A person falls from the north tower of New York's World Trade Center as another clings to the outside, left center, while smoke and fire billow from the building, Tuesday Sept. 11, 2001. Terrorists crashed two hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and brought down the twin 110-story towers Tuesday morning. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Americans mark 9/11 anniversary with new questions on vulnerability' - This 11 September 2001 file photo shows Marcy Borders covered in dust as she takes refuge in an office building after one of the World Trade Center towers collapsed in New York. Borders was caught outside on the street as the cloud of smoke and dust enveloped the area. The woman was caught outside on the street as the cloud of smoke and dust enveloped the area. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Messages scrawled in debris dust on the ladder truck door of Ladder Company 24 join a growing memorial on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001 in New York City to the firefighers from the company who lost their lives in the suspected terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Ladder Company 24 lost 7 firemen in the attack, including Fire Chaplain Father Mychal Judge. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
New York, UNITED STATES: TO GO WITH AFP STORY 'Americans mark 9/11 anniversary with new questions on vulnerability' - (FILES) The rubble of the World Trade Center smoulders following a terrorist attack 11 September 2001 in New York. Americans mark the fourth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks Sunday nagged by new burning questions about their readiness to confront a major disaster after the debacle of Hurricane Katrina. AFP PHOTO/Alex Fuchs (Photo credit should read ALEX FUCHS/AFP/Getty Images)
** FILE ** In this Sept. 14, 2001 file photo, as rescue efforts continue in the rubble of the World Trade Center, President George W. Bush puts his arms around firefighter Bob Beckwith while standing in front of the World Trade Center in New York. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File) 
Emergency workers at ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001 after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
394471 13: Firefighter Tony James cries while attending the funeral service for New York Fire Department Chaplain Rev. Mychal Judge, in front of the St. Francis of Assisi Church September 15, 2001 in New York City. Judge died while giving the last rites to a fireman in the collapse of the World Trade Center. The World Trade Center was destroyed after both the landmark towers were struck by two hijacked planes in an alleged terrorist attack on September 11. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 8: The 'Tribute in Light' memorial as seen from Bayonne, New Jersey, consists of two shafts of light to represent the World Trade Center Twin Towers, is tested before the fifth anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks September 8, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Sylwia Kapuscinski/Getty Images)
The New York newspapers Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001, show coverage of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff)

NEW YORK- SEPTEMBER 3: A wax replica of Thomas Franklin's photograph from September 11, is seen at Madame Tussaud's wax museum September 3, 2002 in New York City. The replica is to be part of an exhibit at the museum called 'Hope: Humanity and Heroism.' (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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Also known as the Freedom Tower, the 104-story 1 World Trade Center is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere, at 1,776 feet (541 meters).

Construction began in 2006 and the building opened in 2014 when media company Conde Nast, the anchor tenant, moved in. About 67 percent of its 3 million square feet is now leased.

The federal government was one of the first tenants in the original World Trade Center in the 1970s, said Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Executive Director Patrick Foye. The General Services Administration had leased space at 6 World Trade Center before it was destroyed in the attacks.

The government became the third tenant in the new building when the General Services Administration signed the lease on its behalf in 2012.

On Sept. 11, 2001, four U.S. commercial airplanes were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center's twin towers, as well as the Pentagon building near Washington D.C. and a field in Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people.

The federal government's return to the World Trade Center sends a "message to the entire world that we will never, ever renounce our values or be afraid," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Selfies, sorrow compete at 9/11 memorial

11 PHOTOS
Selfies, sorrow compete at 9/11 Memorial
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Selfies, sorrow compete at 9/11 Memorial
A member of the New York Fire Department places his hand on the memorial before a ceremony marking the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan in New York September 11, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo
A woman places white roses at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan in New York, September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo
A man takes a photo at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum near the Tribute in Light in Lower Manhattan, New York, September 9, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo
A woman takes a photo at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
People walk along the south reflecting pool at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A woman rests her hand on the north reflecting pool at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Children peer into the south reflecting pool at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A flower sits in the south reflecting pool at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Barbora Carnelli and Alessio Sanfilippo, both from Milan, Italy, peer into the south reflecting pool at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A member of the New York Police Department's Counterterrorism Unit looks over the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
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'AMERICANS ROSE UNITED'

More than 1,000 employees of the GSA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol had moved into the space by March, a spokeswoman said. The lease for the approximately 220,000 square feet is $15 million per year.

Still, not everyone was happy about the return of government agencies to the building. In 2015, six GSA employees sued to try to block the move, saying they feared the rebuilt tower would again be a target for possible attacks. A federal judge in Manhattan threw out the case in June.

In Washington on Friday, members of the U.S. House of Representatives gathered on the exterior steps to the chamber for a remembrance ceremony and sang God Bless America.

Recalling "that terrible day," House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, spoke of the first responders "who went rushing into danger when the whole world was running away from it."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, told the assembly that because of the first responders' heroic efforts, "Americans rose united" from the rubble of the attacks.

For one of those first responders, Michael Byrne, a former New York City firefighter who is now a senior FEMA official, the return of federal government employees to the World Trade Center site is deeply personal.

At the event in Lower Manhattan, Byrne said that as he walks past the memorial to his office each morning, he bids "hello" to friends who died in the 2001 attacks and asks for their blessing.

"We feel the renewed commitment in this beautiful building to continuing the mission for which our former friends gave their life," he said. (Reporting by Hilary Russ; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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