By VERENA DOBNIKAssociated Press
NEW YORK (AP) - A final steel beam was lifted Monday atop a new World Trade Center skyscraper - the first expected to open at the site next year since the twin towers were decimated on 9/11.
With gospel superstar BeBe Winans offering a powerful rendition of "God Bless America," workers raised their hardhats in tribute as the mammoth beam rose slowly into the Manhattan sky, swaying from a steel rope hoisted by a crane.
A U.S. flag attached to the bottom of the beam fluttered above several hundred spectators at the topping-off ceremony.
"Ten years later, it's pretty remarkable," said a teary-eyed Sally Rexach, a nurse who aids workers constructing 4 World Trade Center.
She was at ground zero just after Sept. 11, 2001, supporting workers who combed through the smoking debris in search of human remains.
"This is a very proud moment; it's full circle," she said, glancing across the 16-acre site where the uncompleted One World Trade Center in the northwest corner is already New York's tallest structure.
In the southeast corner facing the 9/11 memorial, the 72-story tower that was topped off Monday is to open for business in the fall of 2013 - the first occupied high-rise at the new trade center site since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The 1.8-million-square-foot skyscraper, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki, will primarily house commercial offices. A third of the office space will be set aside for the headquarters of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site.
An atrium will house shops and restaurants.
At the moment, it is the second tallest skyscraper on the rebuilt World Trade Center site after One World Trade Center, although two other towers eventually will surpass the height of 4 World Trade Center.
On Monday, more than 100 construction workers signed their names to the white-painted steel, with elected officials and developer Larry Silverstein looking on.
"Everybody's put their blood, sweat and tears into this," said John Rzeznik, a project manager at the site.
Minutes earlier, in the half-completed, marble-graced entrance, Winans opened the ceremony by singing "The Star Spangled Banner." Listening to it, some construction workers were moved to hold their hardhats over their hearts.
Silverstein told those assembled that his goal as a developer was "to give New Yorkers back the city terrorists tried to take away."
After years of funding and planning disagreements that at times threatened progress at the site, Silverstein acknowledged, "It's been a very tough time." But, he added, "I've always believed in downtown New York."
In his remarks, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver remembered that certain naysayers had warned lower Manhattan "was dead" after the terror attack.
"But Larry, you were right," Silver said. "Never bet against New York."
Some workers wore yellow T-shirts bearing the words, "Yes we can."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.