WTC Memorial Scheduled To Open In 2009

The horrific images of September 11, 2001 remain seared into the minds of Americans. Since the Twin Towers were toppled by a terrorist attack, the talk has been of healing and paying proper respect to those who lost their lives on that day.

Part of that healing process has been the planning of a World Trade Center Memorial. After much acrimony, analysis, debate and planning, work has begun on the memorial, which is scheduled to open on September 11, 2009. It took nearly five years for the construction to begin, with families of the victims and the public wondering what took so long.

“The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation (WTCMF) was in a position of taking the designs that were selected as a part of the master design competition and then implementing those designs,” explained Joe Daniels, acting president of the New York City-based nonprofit. “Although people say that five years is a long time, the fact is that five years from the time of the attack is a relatively short time in terms of the emotional experience of the stakeholders that are involved.”

Those with a stake in the memorial are many — the city and state, families of victims, developers, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and nonprofit organizations. This past July, an agreement was reached between the WTCMF, the Port Authority, the city and the state where the foundation will play the role of the project’s owner/client, whereby it holds responsibility for the design of the facilities, including the memorial, museum and visitor’s center. The Port Authority has accepted the task of serving as the project’s builder. The first major package of construction – the footings package – got underway last month.

The three projects are each in various stages of development. The memorial and the museum are the farthest along. For the most part, those facilities have a final design, according to Daniels. The facility that is not as far along in the design process is the Visitor’s Center. What has been established is a budget for all three projects.

The release of the Sciame Report this past June included a value study to see where costs could be cut to stay within the $510 million budget set by the governor and the mayor, explained Kori-Ann Taylor, director of communications for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC). The month-long process didn’t delay when the memorial would be completed. It ensured that the project stayed within budget and adhered to the vision of Michael Arad’s design, “Reflecting Absence,”  Taylor added.

Of the museum and memorial’s budgeted $510 million cost, $260 million is being paid for by the WTCMF through private fundraising. The balance will be from a contribution from the LMDC. The federal government, through the HUD (Housing and Urban Development) grant, falls in that $250 million for the memorial and museum. The Visitors Center has been tagged at $80 million, which will be handled through contributions by the State of New York that Gov. George Pataki made available in his executive budget.

As a part of the arrangement between the Port Authority, city and state, it has been agreed upon to set up a reserve fund to which the Port Authority and LMDC are contributing. The reserve fund will ensure that once construction starts, if the budget is exceeded for any reason, a funding source would be in place so that the momentum for construction continues.

Certainty does not always equate to satisfaction, particularly when so many varying interests are involved. At least part of the confusion comes from people not understanding the enormity of the project.

“One thing that people sometimes don’t understand is that everything in the so-called ‘pit’ — you have the PATH train, the Freedom Tower, the various layers of infrastructure that support the entire site — has to work together with the other projects to get it done,” said LMDC’s Taylor.

“It is difficult to get to the point where everybody is satisfied,” admitted Daniels, “but the good news is that the revised plan from the Sciame Report really does take into account most of the major issues from all of the key stakeholders. We now have a design that fittingly pays tribute to those victims that we lost and also recognizes that this memorial quadrant is in the heart of Lower Manhattan and it will have to play an important role in the area’s general revitalization.”

Now that the construction has begun, the WTCMF is communicating to its donors that the project has achieved cost, clarity, design, finality and a clear definition of roles and responsibilities. That’s exactly what its donors needed to hear before deciding to make their gifts and it provides an assurance that when they contribute their dollars now, there is a degree of certainty that this memorial and museum will be built, Daniels said.

The foundation has raised approximately $130 million of the $260 million needed and is still seeking major donors. The Bank of New York, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank are three of the major donors already on board. Daniels is heartened by fundraising, thus far, and with the fifth anniversary, sees the opportunity for more donors to play an essential role in building the memorial and museum.

Those a little lighter in the checkbook will have the option of contributing to the Cobblestone Campaign. For $500 each, donors can purchase a cobblestone and choose to make a dedication on it. Thousands of cobblestones will line the memorial plaza.

“We’re cognizant of the importance for donor recognition — both the major donors and the hundreds of thousands of individual donors across the country,” Daniels said. “This is a memorial site where 3,000, people died so donor recognition will be very carefully considered.”

One of the more than 3,000 victims was Michael Iken, a bond broker working on the 84th floor of the South Tower. Since his passing, his wife Monica left her job as a schoolteacher to start September’s Mission Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the development of a memorial on the former site of the World Trade Center. She is a member of the Family Advisory Committee for the LMDC and takes a different tact when discussing the memorial.

“It’s taken a long time in the sense of getting something done that’s right,” Iken said. “Five years later we’re still fighting and we shouldn’t be fighting for anything. Issues included safety/security, preserving bedrock, preserving the sanctity of the site, moving the Freedom Center off the site, getting the right space for the memorial, trying to make sure that they’ll reach the projected number of visitors – all of these little things. There’s way too many stakeholders. They try to make us look like Looney Tunes but we wouldn’t be Looney Tunes if they were doing the right thing.

Most families don’t want to be fighting about things like this for five years.” Iken admitted that many of the victims’ families aren’t particularly happy with the design. She likes Michael Arad, the architect behind the “Reflecting Absence” memorial, and believes he has the best interests of the families in mind, but said stakeholders treated his design like a “Tinker Toy” by changing the original design.

As construction begins, Iken said that the memorial “is what it is.” Despite all the bureaucracy, battles and changes, she does not regret her involvement or that of her organization.

“I wanted to be involved in the memorial process because I knew that it was his final resting place,” she said. “To me it’s not a burial. It’s a final resting place where you go to honor people and do it in a respectful and reverent way. It hasn’t been that simple. If it’s not one thing we’re fighting for it’s another thing. It’s been five years of non-stop battling of the wills. At least the key elements are there and we fought for it. There’s only so much that you can do.”