Families Balk At Sept. 11 Museum Admission Price

January 27, 2014       Patrick Sullivan and Mark Hrywna      

The Sept. 11 Museum in Lower Manhattan will open this spring and charge admission of $24 that is expected to cover a majority of its $63-million operating budget.

Even though it will be free to family members of those who died on Sept. 11, will be discounts for seniors, youth and New York City schools, and have free admission every Tuesday from 5 to 8 p.m., family members are balking at the price.

Museum officials are planning for more than 2.5 million visits during the first 12 months and an admission fee would cover 60 to 70 percent of the annual operating budget. The memorial, which had more than 11.5 million visitors since it opened two years ago, will be free and open to everyone.

The admission fee is comparable to other museums and attractions in New York City:

  • Museum of Modern Art, $25
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, $25 (suggested)
  • American Museum of Natural History, $22 (suggested)
  • Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, $22
  • Guggenheim Museum, $22
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, $20
  • State of Liberty and Ellis Island, $18
  • American Folk Art Museum, free

“Following a decision made by the board in April to ensure the organization’s financial health, the 9/11 Memorial will charge an admission to the museum to help fund the necessary operational costs,” Joe Daniels, president and CEO of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum, said via a statement. “The 9/11 Memorial does not yet receive government support for ongoing operations as many other important museums of our national history do,” he said.

Some of those who lost loved ones during the attacks advocate that the site instead be operated under the auspices of the National Parks Service (NPS). “It was never intended to be a revenue-generating tourist attraction with a prohibitive budget and entrance fee,” according to a statement issued by 9/11 Parents & Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims. “The solution is not for New York senators to ask for a handout/bailout from the federal government but rather to ask the federal government for the National Parks Service (NPS) to assume full operation and control — at a fraction of the current cost — which should have been done from day one.”

Government funding for operational costs would depend on legislation. “We’re in the process of looking at that as the year goes on,” said communications manager Anthony Guido. “It’s something we’ll be talking about this year and we remain hopeful,” he said. “We’d look at increasing access, programs and educational opportunities as well as increasing free hours.”

9/11 Parents & Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims also criticized the salaries and expenses of the museum, calling the $63-million annual budget bloated with no fiscal responsibility or accountability at the nonprofit. “This is totally out of control. A mandatory $24 admission fee will just serve the purpose of helping to pay these huge salaries and ensure that the ‘tale of two cities’ will continue, as the rich will visit the museum, but the poor and middle class families won’t be able to afford it.”

The memorial opened on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people. Admission to the memorial will remain free while the museum will be located underground, beneath the memorial, displaying more than 1,000 artifacts from the attacks as well as photographs of the victims, graphics panels and oral histories.

Total revenue for the organization was $78.785 million for the fiscal year ending in 2012, down about $3 million from 2011. Nearly $50 million, or more than 64 percent, came from government contributions, all for construction, according to Guido. Construction costs for the memorial and museum have reached $700 million, he said, and the operating budget for both the memorial and museum will be $63 million, up from $42 million in 2012.

Salaries for Sept. 11 memorial executives have come under scrutiny in the past. In 2012, it was reported that a former employee received nearly $300,000 in severance. Joan Garner, former executive vice president of design and construction, earned $439,463, including severance of almost $300,000, after she left the position in May 2010. Salaries and benefits totaled more than $14 million in 2012, up from $10.3 million the year before, according to the Form 990.