Families Want Park Service To Take Over WTC Memorial

A group of family members of victims of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks is calling for the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum to be taken over by the National Park Service (NPS), with the nonprofit transformed into a “Friends Of” group responsible only for fundraising.

The 9/11 Parents & Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims today renewed its call on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, as well as the two states’ governors, to cease negotiations with the Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum Foundation and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration over the creation of an oversight board at the memorial.

The organization advocates that control of the museum be transferred to NPS next year upon expiration of the foundation’s license to operate the site. “It is obvious that the current, private 9/11 foundation does not want any restraints or oversight concerning their out of control spending and gross mismanagement of the memorial and museum, now pegged at a reported incredible $1.3 billion,” said Jim Riches, a retired fire chief and chairman of 9/11 Parents and Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims.

The site has been “desecrated by an ever-increasing wave of inappropriate behavior including trash in the pools, graffiti, football tossing, laughing, and running about,” he said. “The memorial foundation’s inability to control this activity is exacerbated by its obvious desire to make Ground Zero into a public park instead of a national shrine.”

Riches also takes issue with design of the site, claiming that all direct references to the attacks “have been scrubbed” and suggesting “hundreds of American flags” at the memorial instead of the single flag “relegated to the edge of the site on top of a mechanical equipment building.”

The Koenig Sphere, the single surviving aboveground artifact of the attacks, has been banned from the site because, according to Riches, Foundation President and CEO Joe Daniels said it would “compromise the integrity” of the memorial. A spokesman for the Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum Foundation had no comment.

Riches argues that the museum is shiny and new while the sphere is old and damaged, which is why officials didn’t want it on display. “It’s banged up a little bit and would remind people of that day. They have a different vision. They don’t want people to dwell on that day, but think more about the future,” he said.

The Park Service should operate the entire memorial site and the current foundation transformed into a “Friends Of” partnership, with the sole purpose to raise money for the memorial and museum similar to groups like the Gettysburg Foundation and the African Burial Ground Monument Foundation, according to Riches. There are more than 150 “Friends Of” groups connected to national parks and memorials in the United States whose primary role is fundraising.

“We don’t see why the current 9/11 Foundation should not be assigned this very same role. In this way, the NPS can operate the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and the 9/11 memorial foundation can perform the crucial role of raising the needed funds to sustain the memorial and museum,” Riches said. “They have the expertise.”

The Port Authority has accused the foundation in recent months of still owing hundreds of millions of dollars as part of the deal to complete construction of the memorial.

In a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed by more than 200 relatives to Sept. 11 victims, the families called on the governors to direct the Port Authority to honor its contract with the foundation. The families claimed that the bi-state agency is accusing the foundation of owing $157 million simply as a means to “raid the coffers” of the charitable organization to overcome its own mismanagement of capital projects. They criticize the governors for allowing the funding dispute to halt construction on the memorial, which now likely won’t be completed until 2013.

The foundation previously has said that a 2006 agreement capped the foundation’s financial obligation to the Port Authority at $530 million, and that the agency agreed to complete the memorial by 2009.

While the foundation has raised millions in donations, it also has received millions in taxpayer dollars through the lower Manhattan Development Corporation and Federal Emergency Management Agency, Riches said, which warrants some government oversight. In addition, the Port Authority owns the land where the museum is being built.

“They want no federal government oversight, they want to be able to do whatever they want to do,” said Riches. And with the museum floating the idea of a $20 admission fees, and an anticipated five million visitors annually, he said the Port Authority wants a piece of that.

“They said give us hundreds of millions of dollars but don’t ask us what we’re going to do with the money. Someone should watch over this fiscally,” Riches said.