Part of Albanys dysfunctional routine includes each house passing bills that legislators know have little choice of becoming law. They score points back home, blame either the evil party controlling the other house or the governor for blocking passage. So we werent too surprised to see a misguided bill about admission fees to the proposed World Trade Center memorial museum pass one house this week, but it was startling to see it was sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Since the Sept. 11 attack, the Lower Manhattan communitys strongest and most effective advocate has been Silver, whose district includes the W.T.C. site. The bill in question has also passed the state Senate, but thankfully Gov. George Pataki has promised a veto. It would prohibit a museum admission fee if the state money pledged to the memorial site is used.
It is easy to get confused by the complicated components at the W.T.C. site. Save for one aspect of the design (well get to that in a bit), no one is suggesting charging admission to the actual memorial which will include the 2,979 names of the known victims of 9/11 and the 1993 W.T.C. bombing, two waterfalls at the Twin Tower footprints, and a tree-filled plaza with an education and visitors center. The museum will be underneath and adjacent to the memorial.
The only realistic chance to insure a first-class, well-maintained museum that remains relevant with time is to charge an admission fee. The estimated annual operating costs of the memorial, visitors center and museum are $61 million. The W.T.C. Memorial Foundation, which has a formidable task to raise money for the memorial, museum, and performing arts center, will also have to raise money for maintenance costs.
It may not be reasonable to expect the museum admission revenues to cover all costs. But a free museum that relies on annual government and private handouts entirely, with no admission or user fees, is a recipe for a museum that wont be worth much more than the cost of admission nothing.
The foundation is already deferring its responsibility to fundraise for the W.T.C. performing arts center. The state bill would overwhelm an entity that in its short history has behaved like it is overburdened.
A museum admission fee will create one problem that we believe can be solved. The current memorial includes an area 70 feet below ground, allowing visitors to see the W.T.C. bedrock with remnants of the towers footprints and a view of the slurry wall. The only access to this area presently is through the museum so a fee would mean that visitors would have to pay to see part of the memorial. That is unacceptable and officials must find a way so that visitors who are only interested in seeing the public memorial have a free walkway, either though the museum or some other way.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg has gotten this one right by focusing on the need to charge a museum admission fee to assure the funding and operation of the memorial so that it does not become a recurrent charge on city revenues. We implore Speaker Silver, who has done so much for Downtown, to take the governors veto for an answer and let this bill die a quiet death.