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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | Lower Manhattan residents and 9/11 family members have been eagerly anticipating the opening of the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum in time for the 11th anniversary of the attacks.
However now, next Sept. 11 is no longer a plausible deadline for the museum’s opening, since disagreements surrounding the project’s financing have caused construction delays, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who chairs the 9/11 Memorial’s Board of Directors, and National 9/11 Memorial President Joe Daniels.
“There’s no chance of it being open on time. Work has basically stopped,” said Bloomberg during a Dec. 29 press conference at the Brooklyn Public Library.
Specifically, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is demanding $156 million from the 9/11 Memorial for overruns in museum-related construction costs. The 9/11 Memorial Foundation, in turn, claims it is not liable for the extra costs and is demanding approximately $140 million from the Port Authority for expenses caused by delays in construction. The dispute has been festering since early last year, but both parties kept it under the radar so as not to disrupt the opening of the 9/11 Memorial plaza, according to various sources.
“If it’s outside our budget and our scope, we shouldn’t be responsible for [additional costs],” said a source affiliated with the 9/11 Memorial who requested anonymity. “It’s not our fault the Port Authority delayed the project.”
The museum’s planned completion date is inconsistent between different Port Authority and 9/11 Memorial statements, the Downtown Express has found. While a Port Authority press release dated March 2010 says the museum is “expected” to open in September 2012, the agency’s World Trade Center quarterly report for third quarter 2010 cites a completion date of second quarter 2013. Meanwhile, the 9/11 Memorial website’s “Frequently Asked Questions” states that the museum will be opening next September.
And, as recently as October 2011, former executive director of the Port Authority Chris Ward wrote to Governor Andrew Cuomo, “We expect to beat by many months our original commitment date to open the 9/11 Museum by the second quarter 2013, and are pushing to have it open before the end of 2012.”
In a phone interview, a Port Authority spokesperson alluded to a W.T.C. assessment dating back to 2008 that mentions a “target” completion date of first quarter 2013, and a “probabilistic date” of second quarter 2013.
“No assessment ever said Sept. 2012 was the [opening] date, so based on that, there wouldn’t be a delay.” said the spokesperson. “We’ve always looked to expedite these projects quicker than our actual projections.”
Though the Port Authority is the construction manager of the museum, the 9/11 Memorial Foundation is responsible for financing the project, including certain infrastructure costs, the spokesperson explained.
“For example, you could have a foundation wall that’s needed for the memorial and that’s also needed for the transportation hub. The memorial would be responsible for their share of the cost of that wall,” said the spokesperson.
As a result of the dispute, construction on the site is “a fraction” of what it should be, according to Daniels, who addressed the issue at a press conference held on the 9/11 Memorial Plaza last week.
“Our basic view is that we will sit down and talk with the [Port Authority] at any time about how to resolve this, but in the meantime, we want to continue and actually increase the amount of construction activity,” said Daniels.
Echoing the Mayor’s statements, Daniels said that meeting the Sept. 11 deadline for completing and opening the memorial was “not realistic.”
And, though Daniels stressed the importance of hastening construction activity at the site, opening the museum on is not as important as it was to open the 9/11 Memorial Plaza in time for the 10th anniversary. “For the museum,” Daniels said, “it’s about getting it right, 100 percent.”
Construction of the museum has indeed slowed significantly in recent weeks, according to the National 9/11 Memorial source. “Let’s say there were 400 workers [before]; now, there are dozens at the site,” said the source.
The Port Authority spokesperson said that construction is ongoing, but wouldn’t disclose further details. And, contrary to reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, the spokesperson said the Port Authority is “continuing to authorize some [museum] work orders as we continue to negotiate the funding issue.”
“This is an issue that has been present for years,” said the spokesperson in a statement. “The Port Authority is actively negotiating with the city to resolve it.”
The spokesperson declined to comment on the possibility of litigation, though, in a recent radio interview with Albany Talk 1300 A.M.’s Fred Dicker, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo said the quarrel is “so bad that [the Port Authority] is on the verge of litigation.”
Bloomberg, however, denied these claims at the Dec. 29 press conference. “I don’t think it will get to the court,” he said. “I’m sure we’re going to work out something with the Port Authority. They’ve got a difficult budget situation, and I’m sympathetic to that. They’ve got a new executive director, they’ve got a relatively new chairman, and we work well with both and will, I assume, come to some agreement pretty soon.”
The National 9/11 Memorial source confirmed that the foundation isn’t contemplating legal action against the Port Authority at this time. “We’re all coming to the table talking and trying to figure it out,” said the source.
Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin, a former attorney, cautioned against legal action on either side, saying that it would be costly and could conceivably stall the project even further. “Obviously, what has to happen here is they need to come together and resolve outstanding issues,” she said.
Several Downtown residents and 9/11 family members said they were dismayed to hear the museum will likely not be open by the 11th anniversary of the attacks — not only because of the symbolic significance of making the deadline, but because the upkeep of the Memorial Plaza they say, is reliant on revenues from the museum.
“It’s very disturbing to somebody like myself who’s been doing this for 10 years,” said 9/11 Memorial board member Monica Iken, whose late husband, Michael Patrick Iken, worked on the 84th floor of Tower 2.
“Now, I have to think about it and worry about it, [after being] in such a peaceful place,” she said. “I hold the politicians accountable and expect them to do the right thing.”
“The 11th anniversary was a significant head-start date to shoot for,” said Paula Berry, co-chair of the 9/11 Memorial Board’s program committee, who also lost her husband to 9/11. “Without it opening up, we’re losing money we intended for our operating budget.”
Financial District resident Catherine McVay Hughes, chair of Community Board 1’s World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee, agreed that it would be “disappointing” if the milestone were missed.
“We hope that the powers that be will make every effort to make it happen [by the 11th anniversary],” said McVay Hughes. She plans to broach the topic at the committee’s Jan. 9 meeting, when the Port Authority is scheduled to present its quarterly update to C.B. 1.