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by Lisa A. Grimaldi | September 01, 2011

Ten years ago, in the wake of the devastating Sept. 11 attacks, it was hard to imagine lower Manhattan returning to any semblance of normalcy. A decade later, the area not only has been revitalized, it has become one of New York City's biggest draws for tourists, as well as for meeting and incentive groups.

"An important part of the story of 9/11 is how Lower Manhattan -- an area many people said Osama Bin Laden's attack would turn into a ghost town -- has come back in the past 10 years," New York City Michael Bloomberg said at a recent kickoff campaign to boost tourism. "As the population doubled downtown, an incredible number of new restaurants, shops, hotels and attractions opened, and today Lower Manhattan is one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in New York City."

The most prominent new attraction is the 9/11 Memorial, a two-plus acre complex composed of two reflecting pools, waterfalls and a grove of oak trees built on the site of the Twin Towers. This is set to debut on the 10th anniversary of the attack (a memorial museum is scheduled to open September 2012), and will be open, free of charge, to individuals and groups who have advance reservations. (Bookings for groups of 10 or more can be made up to nine months in advance at 911memorial.org.)

Also adding to Lower Manhattan's group appeal is the vast inventory of hotel rooms. According to NYC and Company, the city's convention and visitors bureau, the number of hotels has jumped from six properties offering 2,300 guest rooms in 2001 to 18 hotels with 4,100 guest rooms.

Among the properties that have opened over the past decade are the 217-room W New York–Down­town Hotel & Resi­dences; the 253-room Andaz Wall Street; and the 298-room Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park. The latter, which was slated to open in October 2001, actually debuted in January 2002.

"We started slow," said Nicole LaValette, the Ritz-Carlton's director of sales and marketing. "The perception was that downtown was out of bounds [due to work on the 9/11 site], and it was hard to get meeting planners interested." Today, she says, that business has rebounded, and groups represent 28 percent of the hotel's business.