Money’s no object at the 9/11 Memorial

By David Stanke  |  Various 9/11 activists are protesting plans by the W.T.C. Memorial foundation to charge $20 to enter the memorial museum.  Complaints emanate largely from the same sources who have been complaining about the memorial for over a decade.

The predominant philosophy of these activists till now has been: “Too much is never enough.”  For the 9/11 Memorial, there can never be too much land, too many levels, or too many artifacts. Sacred Ground, after all, tolerates no limits. After 10 years, the “public” process has indeed implemented “too much” and someone has to pay for these extravagances.  Ironically, now the activists feel that paying anything is too much.

Of course, people will have to pay for the massive costs of building and maintaining this memorial.   The question is, who?

The activists are experts in demanding and criticizing, not paying. The preservationists and art societies of New York are not paying.  But the citizens of New York and New Jersey are already paying — every time we hit a toll at Port Authority bridges and tunnels. Every taxpayer in the U.S. is paying to provide the federal funds spent on rebuilding.  The New York political system has paid as Mayor Bloomberg used the strong arm of city government to squeeze local corporations and real estate developers for contributions, a not so subtle form of the “pay to play” environment that has corrupted local politics in the U.S. for over a century.

But still, the costs have not been covered, so to keep the museum afloat, visitors will pay $20 per visit.  They should pay this and more.  Every visitor should recognize the real cost of this memorial.  In the U.S., we too often demand benefits (health care), services, and wars (Afghanistan) but complain bitterly about taxes to pay for them. The W.T.C. Memorial is truly a U.S. memorial, a dream without a foundation. The country needs to realize that somehow, somewhere, someone has to pay.

The principle for designing the memorial and the entire site, was “Listen to the People,” and presumably, give them what they want.  Of course, the people who were heard were the most vocal and extreme, a small fraction of friends and family of the deceased who made memorial design their primary occupation.  They were driven by the core philosophy that bigger was better and that this memorial had to “out memorialize” anything else in existence.

The first sign of trouble might have been when family members were invited on tours of memorials around the world, a memorial shopping spree.  One attack on one day on 16 acres in Lower Manhattan suddenly became the equivalent of Hiroshima, Vietnam, World War II and the Holocaust. The early battle cries demanded 16 acres from bedrock to the sky.  Compromise was intolerable.

There may never be a true accounting of the  W.T.C. Memorial’s cost.  The Memorial Foundation paid nothing for the land. Further, the memorial is a wedge driven into the site, pushing the transportation hub and the commercial redevelopment to the side.

The memorial has forced expensive design changes to other components of the W.T.C.  One of the most obvious added costs was  the excavation of a new infrastructure bathtub down to bedrock. These costs have fallen onto the owners of the site, the Port Authority, which has been the financial backstop for failed political decisions.

A dogmatic interpretation of historical preservation dominated the process.  Everything at the site was historic, therefore everything was worthy of preservation.

The Port Authority hired preservation experts immediately after 9/11 to scour the site and remove the most compelling and significant artifacts that could reasonably be saved.  W.T.C. activist groups and outside preservation experts then scoured what was left, intent on making their own mark.

Everything suddenly became meaningful: the parking structure, the bathtub wall, burn marks on walls, the Survivors’ Staircase.  This last example was a nondescript set of stairs far from the Twin Towers, left in place after demolition for technical reasons. The woman who led the charge to save it was exposed as a fraud who had never been at the site. She is the perfect symbol of the lack of credentials and constraint exhibited by both the public and preservation “professionals.”

In one public discussion session for the W.T.C. Memorial, I posed a question to which I never received an answer.  “Who is going to pay for this?”  How could enough money be raised to cover everything that was being committed? No one would answer. The truth was too painful to acknowledge and politically impossible to deal with.  Silence is the sound of trouble.

When the sky is the limit, anything less is an insult.  Activists still complain. The memorial is too short, artifacts should be above ground, the sacred ground at bedrock is unfit for unidentified human remains.  The museum, which has to tell everything, should not mention the terrorists. All of these are distractions from the one question that we should all be asking, “How did this ever get so out of control?”

David Stanke lives near the World Trade Center and was on a Port Authority consultation committee to discuss historic preservation at the W.T.C.  His email is destanke@gmail.com. 

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9 Responses to Money’s no object at the 9/11 Memorial

  1. Michael Burke

    David Stanke is off his meds again. The billion dollar memorial and its underground museum is the exclusive product of a jury with 13 politically well connected members including, count 'em, one (1) 9/11 family member. In fact the families demand that the names go plaza level saved about $250 million dollars. In public forums the over 2500 participants (not all family members) overwhelmingly called for the return of authentic artifacts to the site. Thousands have called for the return of the Sphere, including hundreds of downtown residents, 9/11 survivors and people nation and world wide. PA boss Patrick Foye has called for its return as has the Koenig Foundation of Germany. Returned to the site, which was always the plan would provide the cash strapped memorial with a much needed money making icon. They could sell little bronze Spheres for $10 and crystal ones for $110. If Stanke wanted to do something productive for a change, he'd remove his head out of that deep, dark place he keeps it and join his neighbors in calling for its return.

  2. David has made several mistakes in his article. The quote " The WTC Memorial is truly a US memorial, a dream without a foundation is incorrect. The Memorial Museum belongs to NYC not the nation. For that to happen the land must belong to the USA. It does not. It belongs to NYC. For many years the only families who were ever included in discussions were those who benefited financially from 9/11. Many of the families attended meetings in the beginning but we listened. Our input was never considered. Putting the unidentified human remains 70 feet below a site that is already below sea level is ludicrous. Who does that? Only the Memorial museum ! The only way that they can maintain this is to charge people. If it would be owned by the USA then a contribution instead of a required fee would be asked. Who can afford to go with a family? I guess the Museum folks believe that everyone earns over 100 K a year. Write an article accurately and people will tend to believe what you say.

  3. Bernie Goetz

    The principle for designing the entire site was not “Listen to the People”, but listen to George Pataki, the nitwit who tried to be President by traveling with a model of Libeskind’s nitwit tower. Anyone knowledgeable has to laugh…. or cry. Pataki made all the decisions at the WTC site, get it? There couldn’t have been a less qualified person but the NY Times and Daily News and Bloomberg were gung-ho for it all. The plans are a product of hot air, incompetence, and corruption and now NY and NJ are stuck with it. A lot of people don’t care as much any more, besides people from NJ are paying for most of it right now anyway. Plenty of tourists will pay $20 to see the hole in the ground museum and will be puzzled by the bizarre meaningless waterfalls, and few will come a second time but who cares, there are plenty more to take their place.

    Now some people are complaining that Greenwich Street on the site will be closed. Duh. The only streets that should have been restored for good traffic are Greenwich and Fulton, but this was never up for serious discussion and the site streets were done the wrong way. Actually Greenwich and Fulton Streets should not have been gotten rid of by the original Twin Towers plans, one of several blunders in the original Twin Towers plans that could have been corrected after 9/11 but Pataki and the NY Times didn’t have a clue, so don’t blame the victims families who never supported these plans.

  4. Bernie Goetz

    BTW, Pataki and the LMDC didn’t listen to anybody including the victims families. Many of the victims families and Mike Burke are under the impression the victims names were moved up to street level becuase they asked for that. Not so, here’s what happened: The victims names had been planned to be down in the pools in front of the waterfalls and facing the walls which were supposed to have open galleries. Underground visitors were supposed to look out the open galeries and thru the waterfalls to see the victims names, cute. After about 5 years Pataki’s people finally realized what a number of others had been saying for years, that wind could blow sheets of water from the waterfalls into the open galleries, soaking visitors – bad anytime but particularly bad in the winter. Another screw up. The galleries would have required glass windows but water of course would have got on the glass screwing up the visual effect. It took Pataki’s people over 5 years to realize the whole concept of looking at the victims names thru the waterfalls wouldn’t work. So they then told the victim’s families, “We’re moving the names up to steet level for you!” and most people bought it. A bunch of dufuses. Or is the plural dufi? Anyway the workmanship on the names and waterfalls is very good although the waterfalls are dumb.

  5. I wish I could have commented sooner, but still want to go on the record. The redeeming part of this opinion is the conclusion — the rest is a jumble of misconceptions that adds to the pervasive confusion. The one question that we should all indeed be asking is, “How did this ever get so out of control?” The answer is written in and between the lines of all the comments above: Defile and defeat the democratic process, while professing to honor it; misappropriate billions of public dollars while refusing to give an accounting; use a lazy, gullible media to misdirect attention away from the truly despicable culprits; rely on the "expert" opinion of those who make the facts fit their agendas. The worst part isn't just money that is no object at the Memorial, but — as the 1776-foot tombstone, the banished Koenig Sphere, the confiscation of the precious remains, the generic waterfalls, the extravagant transit hub, and the rest of the disappointing site attest — it is the will of the people that is no object at the WTC. In other words, the place where 3,000 people were murdered for no other reason than that they were Americans, is Ground Zero for our democracy.

  6. Michael Burke

    ML Donovan, as usual, hit the nail on the head. Rebuilding at the WTC has been by the elitists, of the elitists, for the elitists.

  7. Bernie Goetz

    Stanke is right about most things he says but is naive and does not understand the situation when he says money’s no object at the 9/11 memorial (or the rest of the WTC site too). Yes, at first money was not considered at the WTC site but neither was anything else including competency. Here’s what happened in a nutshell and how things got so out of control: Pataki didn’t pick competent people. Then ultimately Paterson appointed Christopher Ward who actually started building the dumb Libeskind plan and memorial design. If Cuomo had been elected governor instead of Paterson there is a good chance he would have cancelled the memorial and Libeskind designs. Now we are stuck with it unless we are willing to bankrupt the PA. Here is a summary of the history:

    The irresponsible decision was made to restore the original streets as the basis for any plan. The people who wanted the original streets were trying to prevent large scale development at the site. Pataki picked Libeskind because he was a yes-man and would not go against the original streets. Others knew the original streets were irresponsible and that the plans were garbage. Eli Attia is a good example. Another example, Rudy Giuliani, who was at demolition, said of the Twin Towers facades: keep them, since they could be used for a memorial. He later would say of the waterfall design: declare a failed search and look for different designs. Ed Koch said use the facades of the original towers as a basis for the memorial and rebuild the Twin Towers. (BTW, I don’t believe rebuiding the Twin Towers was the only good option but it was a far better option than the nonsense required by restoring the original streets.) Donald Trump said of the Libeskind plans and memorial design: Throw it all away. There were at least 5 good other options for the site, I can describe them if you want, but these and other inputs were ignored by the arrogant incompetent Pataki clique who called the shots, and Bloomberg wouldn’t even appoint the LMDC appointees he was supposed to.

    The incompetence was so great that no significant construction occured when Pataki and Spitzer were in charge. There was still hope the plans would be cancelled. Then Paterson became governor and appointed Chistopher Ward who had a history of deliberatly wasting huge sums on ridiculas plans (the Bronx water filtration plant) and he actually started to build the Libeskind plan and waterfall memorials. Spending more money was the object, as some now say the Obama administration is doing. And now we are paying the price and thats why things are so out of control.

  8. I’d like to retract a statement. In the article Stanke makes a few good points but he is wrong about most things.

  9. I can’t let Stanke get away with trying to blame the critics of this poorly chosen memorial for the ridiculous costs of the memorial. He has it ass-backwards.To see what most critics of the memorial actually said, see:
    http://www.triroc.com/wtc/media/designersstatement.htm

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