BREAKING NEWS: Deal reached between 9/11 Memorial and the Port Authority

BY ALINE REYNOLDS | Though the hiatus on construction of the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum looks like it is coming to an end, the museum still won’t be open until late next year, at the earliest.

On Mon., Sept. 10, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the 9/11 Memorial Foundation reached a preliminary agreement to move ahead with construction of the underground World Trade Center museum starting later this month. Work at the site significantly slowed down in the past several months due to a financial stalemate between the Port Authority, the site’s construction manager, and the foundation, which is responsible for financing the memorial. Per the deal, the two parties will be meeting on a regular basis to discuss budgetary needs, ongoing operation costs and construction schedules.

A coordination task force will be created to tackle any issues stemming from the planning or implementation of activities, in the effort to minimize their disruption among other W.T.C. stakeholders. Additionally, the Port Authority and the foundation will work together to obtain federal funding for the museum’s operating expenses, according to a Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.) issued jointly by the Port Authority and the memorial.

A newly established advisory committee, comprised of appointees by the New York and New Jersey governors, the foundation and the New York City mayor, will be charged with resolving future disputes between the Port Authority and the foundation.

Joe Daniels, who recently voiced disappointment in the project’s delay, told the Downtown Express that he doesn’t see shortfalls in this deal — even though there is no mention of the foundation’s receipt of close to $150 million it was demanding from the Port Authority for expenses caused by museum construction delays. As part of the deal, the memorial has agreed to fork over $12 million to the Port Authority for construction-related costs.

“We’re really happy with this arrangement: It says that, fundamentally, construction is restarting and it will not stop until the museum reopens,” said Daniels. “It’s a positive thing for everyone concerned with the project.”

The Port Authority estimates that, of the $300 million in anticipated overtime work and other cost overruns, the settlement reduces the exposure by more than $150 million, according to the M.O.U.

In a written statement, Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke to the progress made at ground zero in the last few years, and called the agreement “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.”

“By ensuring that no additional public funds are spent to complete the memorial and museum,” he said, “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.”

Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who gave $15 million of his own riches to the project, said the agreement ensures that work at the museum will resume and will not stop until the job is done. “As chairman of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum board, which is made up of supporters and family members who so successfully opened the completed memorial last year, my goal during this period has been to get construction on the museum restarted,” he said.

Additionally, Daniels is optimistic about the foundation acquiring ownership of the eight-acre parcel of land that comprises the Memorial plaza and the future museum. The agreement states that a land swap previously delineated in a 2006 agreement between the bi-state agency and the foundation would be considered in the next six months.

“If you look at the memorandum of understanding, it indicates that over the next six months we’ll be striving to execute a Master Operating Agreement — which is the lease for the site that entails the land swap,” said Daniels. “It’s critical to this arrangement…that our ownership interests would come out of it.”

Though construction of the museum has diminished, it has never come to a complete halt. In fact, the structure is now 75 percent complete, and dozens of workers amounting to as many as 75 have been working there on a daily basis, according to the Port Authority. “Currently, there is ongoing electrical and plumbing work as well as waterproofing, carpentry, and exterior panel installation taking place in the [museum] pavilion,” said spokesperson Steve Coleman.

While a new completion date for the museum has yet to be determined, Daniels said it should open by the end of next year or, at the latest, in early 2014. The Port Authority, Daniels noted, will be tasked with coming up with a more exact date. “There’s lots of planning to do in terms of ramping up for an opening,” said Daniels. “What I can say for sure is, between their commitment — between our boards with guys like Dan Tishman [chief executive officer of Tishman Construction, the construction manager of One W.T.C.] —there’s going to be a huge focus on that construction schedule.”

Lower Manhattan residents are cautiously optimistic about the deal. Community Board 1 member Allan Tannenbaum, who was photographing the Sept. 11 commemoration ceremony on Tuesday, was pleased to hear the news about the deal. Earlier this year, he launched an online petition on change.org calling for the memorial to erect a wall on the plaza commemorating the deaths of first responders and others who have died from W.T.C.-related illnesses since 2001. “The progress that’s been made is very exciting, but when you see how much there is still to be done, it’s disheartening,” he said, “because the damage that was done 11 years ago is still with us, and it’s going to be with us for quite a few years.”

Tannenbaum added, “I really hope that I get to see this [memorial] completed and new and beautiful within my lifetime.”

Catherine McVay Hughes, who chairs C.B. 1, said that, while word of the settlement was a relief, “It is important to note that the first point of the memorandum of understanding addresses financial transparency, visibility and settlement.”

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