Volume 17, Number 49 | April 29 — May 05, 2005

Rendering of the World Trade Center Tribute Center at 120 Liberty St.

Lease signed for Tribute Center

By Ronda Kaysen

The World Trade Center memorial may not open until 2009, but the millions of the tourists who visit the site each year will have a Tribute Center to answer their myriad questions by early next year.

The September 11th Families Association signed a five-year lease with the owners of 120 Liberty St. in December, and hired BKSK Architects to transform the 6,000 sq. ft. space into an information center, a gallery with permanent and rotating exhibits, a gathering space for the 9/11 community and hub for volunteer-guided tours.

“When people come here, they look at a hole in the ground, they have no sense of what happened. Where were the towers? How many people died?” said Lee Ielpi, vice president of the Families Association. “When we are able to connect with them, they stop and they listen and they ask very serious questions. They have somebody to connect to.” Ielpi, a member of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, lost his son, Jonathan, in the attack.

Infused with a $3 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the Families Association is in the process of reaching out to other donors to meet their development costs. The center will also honor the victims of the 9/11 Pentagon attack and Shanksville, Penn. Plane crash, as well as the victims of the 1993 W.T.C. bombing.

The Tribute Center will be located on a street that is very much in the center of the mammoth construction zone. The contaminated Deutsche Bank building, also on Liberty St., will soon begin a months-long demolition process and the W.T.C. site itself is directly across the beleaguered street.

“For a temporary center, it will be in a very active location on a dead end street,” said David Stanke, who lives next door to the future Tribute Center at 114 Liberty St. “It would’ve been better if it could’ve been put in a space with more space for people to go.” Stanke is, however, hopeful the center will bring more visitors to the other Liberty St. businesses that have long suffered since 9/11.

Ielpi thinks the center will alleviate the crowding from tourism, not worsen it. “We’re not overly concerned,” he said. “We’re looking at this in a broad sense… We have an obligation to the Downtown people here so that everything that’s done is done with a broad sense of what’s happening.”

The Families Association is considering following a ticket-taking model similar to the one established for the platform that extended over the W.T.C. site in the months after 9/11. Visitors will not be charged for using the center, although there may be a suggested donation option.

Stanke wonders if a suggested donation model is the best approach for a center that might accommodate upwards of 3,000 visitors a day. “I’d like to see the objective of it be financially independent – charge people for tours, especially since these things have to provide a service of value,” he said. “Tourists should be able to pay for something that will support the site.”

Ielpi does not have clear figures of what the operating budget might be or how it will be funded, but he insists that visitors should not be expected to pay for the information they receive at the center. “Charge? Gosh, no.”

The center will be staffed with paid employees, but an army of volunteers made up of “the 9/11 community” – anyone and everyone affected by 9/11 — will lead tours of the site and answer visitors’ questions.

The L.M.D.C. and the governor have long been supportive of an idea of a temporary center for the visitors who flock to the site each year – 300 tourists rest their weary legs at nearby St. Paul’s Chapel every hour – and Governor George Pataki plans to formally announce the center in the coming weeks.

“In response to Governor Pataki’s directive to support the creation of an interim space for the W.T.C. site, we are pleased to support the Center, which will fulfill an important need until the completion of a permanent memorial at the World Trade Center site in 2009,” said L.M.D.C. president Kevin Rampe in an e-mail statement.

Although the center will serve an interim need, it may continue well after the memorial opens its doors.

“Could this be an entity that could incorporate into the memorial itself? It could. Could this be a community center? It could. Could it close in 2009? It could?” said Ielpi. “It could be any of those things, it’s way too early to tell.”


Ronda@DowntownExpress.com

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