1 World Trade Center. Reuters

Three companies have been chosen as finalists to operate the tallest observatory in the U.S. at One World Trade Center, after five other firms, including the owners of the Empire State Building, were eliminated.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the tower in lower Manhattan with the Durst Organization, notified the finalists late Tuesday, the New York Times reported.

The final three groups include Legends Hospitality Management, owned by the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys and sports mogul David Checketts; Canada's GSM Projects and restaurant owner Danney Meyer of Shake Shack fame; and France's Montparnasse 56 USA, bar operator the Gerber Group and chef Marc Murphy of Landmarc restaurants.

Empire State Building Co., controlled by the Malkin family, was among the bidders that did not make the cut. The Malkins have their own lucrative observatory in the city's most iconic tower, which had $60 million in profits in 2010, according to disclosures filed in advance of a proposed initial public offering.

The forecast for One World Trade Center's observatory is also bright. Visitors will pay $20 to $25 for views from over 1,200 feet above the street, and annual revenue at the observatory could exceed $100 million annually, according to the Times.

The project is expected to be a bright spot at a time when the Port Authority is struggling financially, largely because of the $3.8 billion cost of One World Trade Center. Earlier this week, Moody's Investors Service downgraded the Port Authority's bond rating to Aa3 from Aa2, despite its raising tolls on bridges and tunnels.

One World Trade Center is expected to be completed near the end of 2013. The 3-million-square-foot tower is around 55 percent leased, with commitments from publisher Condé Nast, China's Vantone Industrial Co. and the General Services Administration.