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It will have been 11 years this September since the day terrorists killed nearly 3,000 innocent civilians and first-responders at the World Trade Center, and we still won’t have a museum to commemorate their deaths.
The reason for the delay in completing and opening the 9/11 Museum at Ground Zero — what boils down to inflated egos clashing over a money dispute — is disgraceful. The museum’s opening in time for the 11th anniversary was supposed to be a crucial step toward solidifying Downtown’s post-9/11 regrowth and healing.
In the current financial standoff, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is demanding $156 million from the 9/11 Memorial Foundation, while the Foundation is claiming some $150 million for expenses largely resulting from construction delays. The Foundation blames the Port Authority for instigating the delays, and the Port Authority faults the Foundation for not coming up with adequate funding for cost overruns tied to the museum.
As a result, construction at the site has practically ground to a halt.
The holdup in the museum’s opening is all the more troublesome, because the targeted completion date for the National September 11 Memorial Museum was originally 2009. What’s more, neither the Port Authority nor the Foundation has announced a new deadline for opening the museum.
It’s deceptive of the Port Authority to continue to assure the public that a resolution is in sight without offering any indication of when an agreement will be reached.
Julie Menin, former Community Board 1 chairperson, has rightly stated that the leaders of the city and both states should convene a meeting with all the relevant players and demand that no one leave the room until a consensus is reached.
Indeed, the Port Authority and the Foundation must be willing to reach a compromise on financing the remainder of the museum’s buildout. Otherwise, both sides risk undergoing a formal mediation process that could prove costly, lengthy and potentially unsuccessful. And if mediation fails, the dispute could go to the courts, and the museum’s opening would be stalled even further.
The museum’s upkeep shouldn’t even be discussed until a hard-and-fast deadline is set for the site’s completion.
Governors Cuomo and Christie have dropped the ball on the project thus far. The governors’ recent press statements on the issue — specifically, their proposal to create a new governing board to run the memorial — show that they’re not thinking constructively about the issue at hand. On this latest diversion, Mayor Bloomberg is right that the 9/11 Memorial and Museum should be overseen by the Foundation in order to help insulate the site from the political process.
Governor Cuomo has offered no possible solution to the conflict, and dismissively told a reporter in January that the Port Authority was on the verge of litigation against the Memorial Foundation.
Mayor Bloomberg has a strong track record on the project to date, having revived the Foundation when it was practically dead in the water. In his capacity as chairman of the Foundation, a position he’s held since late 2006, the mayor has raised more than $430 million for the memorial — $15 million of which came from his own pocket — and has helped to oversee its day-to-day operations.
It’s high time for all three officials to end the paralysis and to lead. They need to cut a deal, set a new deadline for the opening — and meet it. The longer we wait, the harder it will be for our community and our nation to recover from the trauma of Sept. 11, 2001.