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The settlement between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the National September 11 Memorial is a crucial step forward toward resolving the yearlong financial impasse that has thwarted progress at the World Trade Center site. Having a written agreement forces both sides to commit to a set of guidelines that didn’t previously exist. It requires the executives and politicians to sit across a table from one another and share budget data, offer construction updates and relay other essential information concerning the 9/11 museum’s build-out.
But the battle is only half over. Without continued leadership and close supervision by Mayor Bloomberg and the governors of New York and New Jersey, the agreement itself could become another flashpoint of contention, and delays at the site could reoccur. All parties must now systematically work to implement the agreement.
It’s clear that the rebuilding of the shattered site is one of the most complex construction projects in the world. It entails billions of dollars, careful synchronization of construction and the build-out of millions of square feet — not to mention the necessary collaboration of a host of stakeholders, contractors, government agencies and elected leaders.
This site can ill afford to be plagued by further discord and delay. Downtown and the world have witnessed what has happened when disputes drag on too long, as exemplified by the financial standoff between developer Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority concerning the future office towers.
We hope that the agreement will provide the impetus and framework for resolving the existing problems and preventing future standoffs.
Moving forward, Downtown community members and 9/11 families must also remain vigilant by holding the involved parties and politicians accountable for construction mishaps, cost overruns and other snags. Community Board 1, in particular, must continue to invite Port Authority and 9/11 Memorial officials to its committee meetings for updates and answers.
We strongly support the agreement to seek federal funding to cover a share of the estimated $60 million a year needed for operations. A proposed law, were it to pass Congress, would oblige the federally funded National Park Service to contribute $20 million annually to the memorial. Once the museum opens, the public should also chip in financially by paying a mandatory admission fee or making a donation at the door.
Not everyone has faith in the settlement. A group of 9/11 families and firefighters is contesting the formation of an advisory board, which, according to the agreement, is meant to mitigate future disputes between the Port Authority and the 9/11 Memorial Museum. The group believes the advisory board, in fact, will precipitate years of fighting between the authority and the foundation board, and that the only viable solution is for the license of the memorial to be transferred from the memorial to the National Park Service.
One constant that we have learned after 11 years of W.T.C. discussions and deliberations is that not everyone agrees.
The Port Authority must now determine a realistic completion date for the museum. The date should allow for a modest degree of wiggle room so that, in the event of unforeseen delays, the agency doesn’t fall hopelessly behind its benchmark.
Governors Cuomo and Christie, Mayor Bloomberg and the Port Authority must maintain the momentum of this agreement and assure its successful implementation. It is estimated that, once completed, the museum will attract 2 million visitors annually.
Now is the time for the Port Authority to sprint toward the finish line.