NEWS


Thousands vie to design W.T.C. memorial

By Josh Rogers

Downtown Express photos by Ramin Talaie
Firefighters protested before last Wednesday’s public hearing on the memorial.

Thirteen thousand six hundred and eighty-three people have four weeks to submit their idea of how best to memorialize the victims of the 9/11 attacks and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Kevin Rampe, interim president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., had a simple message to all of the would-be designers: “Above all else, be daring. Be bold. Be unconventional.”

More people registered to design the W.T.C. memorial than for any design competition in the U.S., L.M.D.C. officials said. Officials did not predict how many registrants would follow through with a submission and the $25 application fee before the June 30 deadline. About 4,800 registered to design a memorial to the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, but only 627 submitted designs. There were more than 1,200 submissions for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., which was designed by Maya Lin, one of the 13 jurors who will select the W.T.C. memorial.

The majority of the registrants are from one of the 50 states, with the most coming from New York, 4,598, followed by California, 1,152, and New Jersey, 922. The L.M.D.C. received submissions from 93 other countries — from Albania to Vietnam with China, Egypt — home to several of the 9/11 hijackers — Iran, Israel and Tanzania, victimized by the 1998 Al Qaeda U.S. embassy bombings, among those in between. No one from Afghanistan, where the 9/11 attack was believed to have been ordered, or Saudi Arabia, where most of the hijackers were born, registered.

Lin joined most of her fellow jurors last Wednesday at a hearing to take public comments on the memorial. More than half of the 56 people who spoke were relatives of firefighters who were killed Sept. 11 or firefighters — almost all of whom argued that the names of the people who died rescuing others should be grouped by firehouse and police precinct.

Geraldine Halderman, her voice cracking, said her son was one of the 343 firefighters who made “a deliberate conscious decision to enter those towers for the sole purpose of saving lives.”

Chris Ganci, whose father, Chief Peter Ganci, was the highest ranking firefighter killed on 9/11, said: “If it wasn’t for them (rescue workers), you’d need twice as much space for a memorial because there’d be twice as many victims.”

The W.T.C. site plan by architect Daniel Libeskind calls for a 4.7-acre memorial area 30 feet below ground near the “bathtub” slurry wall. Carl Weisbrod, president of the Downtown Alliance and an L.M.D.C. board member, was among a few of the speakers who asked the jury to consider plans that increased the pedestrian access through the site by moving the memorial closer to street level. Weisbrod also said the area devoted to the memorial was six acres when the proposed cultural center and 9/11 museum that will be adjacent to the memorial are included.

“We urge you to give weight to submissions that bring the open area closer to grade— at grade ideally — as well as to other means of providing access thought the site,” Weisbrod said.

Downtown Rebounds, a new residential group funded by Friends of Community Board 1, last week released a poll in which 51 percent of the 800 residents surveyed said they favored bringing the memorial up to street level and 21 percent said they favored keeping it below street level but adding walkways over the memorial.

Rampe, speaking at a press conference last Friday, said he wanted to increase the connectivity at the memorial area, but he didn’t want to detract from Libeskind’s vision.

“A memorial design that took away from the spirit of the Libeskind plan would not be an acceptable design,” Rampe said.

Weisbrod said it would be possible to bring the memorial to street level but still keep the bathtub slurry wall visible. He said raising the memorial would also allow more room underneath for the “infrastructure” needed to support it including a parking garage for visiting tour buses — an idea that has been opposed by many of the victims’ relatives. After looking at previous memorial juries, he is confident the W.T.C. jury will pick a solution that addresses the different needs.

“It is remarkable how a design that meets all of the needs is what ultimately arises,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’m very optimistic we will end up with a memorial that meets the needs of all of the different constituencies.”

There was some tension at the public hearing between family members and local residents.

When Battery Park City resident Helene Seeman said, “I don’t know how a 30-foot, six-acre pit can revitalize Lower Manhattan,” someone yelled out, “it’s a cemetery.”

Frank Vogt, who is related to a firefighter, said: “My uncle’s bones are in that ‘pit.’ I can’t believe the insensitivity to call it that.” He said listing the rescue workers separately wouldn’t create “a hierarchy” of lives — something the L.M.D.C. wants to avoid. He said his uncle, through his actions, showed he valued the lives of the people working in the Twin Towers more than his own.

Christina Evans Serafin, who lost her son, firefighter Robert Evans, said the concern of residents should not be given too much weight since many of them will move away from Downtown. “They are not going to stay there forever,” she said. “They are not native New Yorkers.”

At the press conference to announce the end of the registration deadline, Rampe said there was no requirement to list the names in alphabetical order, as many firefighter families oppose, and it is important to give the designers maximum flexibility.

“The names need not be listed alphabetically or need not be listed at all,’ Rampe said. Six people were killed in the 1993 W.T.C. bombing and 3,016 people are known to have been murdered on Sept. 11.

Lin, who listed the Vietnam veterans by the year they were killed or classified as missing in action, said in April that she hoped the designer came up with a new way to display the names. She and many of the other jurors took extensive notes throughout the three-hour hearing at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Immediately after one woman criticized Lin’s design — “let us not replicate the Vietnam wall which is huge and meaningless — ” the artist calmly scribbled some notes in her pad.

Three jurors did not attend the hearing: Vartan Gregorian, Enrique Norten and Michael Van Valkenberg. Patricia Harris, deputy mayor for administration, left over an hour early.

Michelle McManus, a spokesperson for the L.M.D.C., said the jurors who did not attend had informed the L.M.D.C. when they were named to the jury they had prior commitments conflicting with the May 28 hearing. Jordan Barowitz, a mayoral spokesperson, said Harris left early because of a family commitment.

The hearing also drew Bernhard Goetz, the former subway vigilante who didn’t have much to say about the memorial, but did tell the jury, “I feel the Libeskind plan was rushed into.”

The hearing video will be available at the L.M.D.C. Web site, www.renewnyc.com, where visitors can also submit comments to the jury. Comments can also be mailed to the L.M.D.C. at One Liberty Plaza, N.Y., N.Y. 10006.

Design submissions will be accepted between June 9 and June 30. The jury will review the anonymous entries over the summer and narrow the field to less than six by September 2003, which will mark the two-year anniversary of the attack. The final decision will be made in October.

The jury met with the L.M.D.C.’s families’ advisory committee in a private meeting the day before the public hearing and will meet with all of the advisory committees June 5, Rampe said. Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Mike Bloomberg will also meet with the jury. And former Mayor Rudy Giuliani will have “the opportunity to express his hopes and aspirations for the memorial” directly to the jury, Rampe said.

Josh@DowntownExpress.com


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