Ground Zero's retail prospects became clearer last Thursday after New York State officials said that the latest plan calls for about 550,000 square feet of shopping space to be developed in and around the site. The news followed the announcement that plans for the International Freedom Center museum -- seen by many victims' families and others as too controversial to occupy the memorial quadrant -- had been shelved.

The proposed retail development exceeds the former World Trade Center mall by almost 150,000 square feet. The plan, not yet final, includes about 300,000 square feet of street-level retail space that will be developed along Church Street, one of the most popular pedestrian routes to Ground Zero.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, owner of the 16-acre Twin Towers site, is working with developer Tishman Speyer Properties on the retail project. While commercial real estate brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle is acting as a consultant to the Port Authority, Australian mall developer Westfield has the right of first refusal on any retail projects. Westfield leased the original space beneath the Trade Center.

"There really isn't much retail now supporting the lower Manhattan residential market, which has grown significantly since 9/11," says Cliff Molloy, senior managing director of retail services at Manhattan-based brokerage GVA Williams.

As Molloy notes, the original shopping mall beneath the Trade Center was successful. Not only did it boast some of the highest sales per square feet of any U.S. mall, but it also drew from a diverse group of shoppers. He believes the same mixed group of customers will return to the site once the retail development is completed.

"The ratio of shoppers back then was one-third office workers, one-third area residents and the balance from across the river in New Jersey," he says. The biggest boost, however, should come from lower Manhattan's growing population of residents. Many old office buildings are being converted to condos and rental units.

"This is good news for the lower Manhattan market," says Molloy. "It's hard to say if it will all be built, but this is moving in the right direction." -- Parke Chapman