It is one of those September 11 bright clear mornings today. Perhaps the sun is shining a little bit brighter because after nearly a year of delays, construction is set to resume at the 9/11 Museum at ground zero.
The museum was supposed to have opened today, a year after the memorial plaza on which it sits finally opened to the public, but a dispute over who owed whom millions of dollars in unpaid construction costs halted construction last fall, and the site has sat dormant ever since. For a time it looked like nothing would happen as pressure mounted going into the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but an agreement was reached this weekend between Governor Andrew Cuomo, who shares control of the Port Authority, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who oversees the 9/11 Memorial Foundation.
The foundation has agreed to stop seeking $17 million in funds it believes the Port owes it for construction work it did on the complex 16-acre site—since everything is interconnected, the boundaries and work orders can easily blur. In exchange, the Port will begin overseeing work on the museum by the end of the month and will continue to do so until the project is completed. A new opening date has not been set.
Governor Cuomo, along with Governor Chris Christie, have been critical of the project for costing tax payers additional public funds, billions of dollars of which have been sunk into rebuilding the World Trade Center, including suggestions that toll hikes last year on Port Authority Hudson River crossings resulted from the rebuilding. To ensure no extra funds go to the project, a special eight-member advisory panel will be established to keep an eye on the continuing construction, including monthly updates to the Port from the foundation.
“Over the last few years, we have made extraordinary progress at Ground Zero and today’s agreement is yet another milestone in our work to finally complete the site as a place where people from around the world can come to work, visit and remember,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement released last night. “By ensuring that no additional public funds are spent to complete the memorial and museum, today’s agreement puts in place a critical and long overdue safeguard to finally protect toll payers and taxpayers from bearing further costs, and, at the same time, put the project on a path for completion.”
The museum still faces challenges, such as who will run it (the governors have been lobbying for the National Parks Service to step in, which would help provide federal funds). After all, the AP revealed yesterday it will cost upwards of $60 million to operate the memorial and museum. The wire points out that Gettysburg gets $8.4 million per year, the U.S.S. Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor costs $3.6 million while Arlington Cemetary gets $45 million and saw almost as many visitors, 4 million compared to 4.5 million at ground zero.
Then again, all those downtown visitors had to file through a tight security line that can take up to an hour to get through. Imagine when the project is finished and flooded with visitors in the nation’s biggest city. Nevermind that this is a complex, urban setting, rather than a bucolic park. We shall see.
Mayor Bloomberg certainly thinks it is worth it, as his statement yesterday made clear: “The museum is important to the families of those who died on 9/11 – they’ve contributed photos and memories of their lost loved ones, who deserve a thoughtful tribute. The museum is important to the historical record and will preserve materials and artifacts of great significance that tell the story of what happened on that terrible day. The museum is important to the country and the world because it helps us remember that freedom is precious.”
Now if only they could figure out what to do with The Sphere.