WTC Heavies To Public: We Hear You But…

With uncertainties abounding since last week’s acknowledgement that the World Trade Center redevelopment is behind schedule and overbudget, much talk at last night’s mega-Lower Manhattan community meeting centered around the site’s 8-acre memorial, referred to repeatedly as “the heart” of the project.

The meeting was designed to give the public a chance to talk with the major stakeholders in the redevelopment; attendees included State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Councilman David Yassky and State Senator Martin Connor. The memorial took center stage.

The memorial and interior museum was once slated for completion in 2009, but now the Port Authority said it will not be finished by the 10th anniversary of the attacks in September 2011.

Now, with the Paterson administration reevaluating and prioritizing every aspect of the site, officials indicated last night that the memorial would go forward as designed, with an attempt to have it partially open by 2011.

“The eyes of the entire world will be on the World Trade Center site on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks,” said Joseph Daniels, president of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Praising the Port Authority report from last week, Mr. Daniels continued, “It is my hope and it is the expectation of the National 9/11 Memorial that the process that [Port Authority executive director] Chris [Ward] described will yield the necessary decisions to ensure not only that the memorial can open to the public by September 11, 2011, but that this goal can be achieved in a way that is in the best interest of the overall site.”

Speaking to reporters after the forum, Mr. Ward stated that “the delivery of the memorial is the driving force and the date of the 10-year anniversary is in a sense the driving date that we’re working towards,” but reiterated that “the memorial in its entirety with the museum will not be finished on that date.”

Members of the public expressed concerns about the finality of the current designs, and stressed that the design of the memorial should not be compromised due to budgeting woes.

Mr. Ward responded that “the intent for what we all want and have rests with the components that you see in the memorial design today. So that includes the plaza; that includes the reflecting pool; that includes the hollow shapes that the memorial incorporates; and it is our hope that in large measure, that part of the memorial will be done.”

He stressed, however, that the “memorial plaza does not stand alone,” and the “capacity to deliver the memorial on that day is very much linked to the delivery of the hub and the below-grade components” of the project.

Much of what Mr. Ward said echoed aspects of his report [PDF], presented last Monday. Intended to realistically diagnose the project’s status, the June 30 report has been heralded for its candor, but not one date or monetary value is referenced. The report states that not only do the project’s deadlines need to be extended, but that it is impossible to even define–almost seven years later–a realistic timeline at this point before a set of outstanding issues are prioritized and resolved.

This uncertainty helps explain the general feeling at Thursday evening’s meeting with the public.

Stakeholders such as Mr. Ward and others–including top Silverstein Properties executive Janno Lieber, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation head Avi Schick and Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber–appeared to be more interested in listening to the public’s concerns, especially about the memorial, than in committing to further concrete changes at the site.

WTC Heavies To Public: We Hear You But…