Volume 19, Number 3 | June 2-8, 2006

Talking point

Memorial can’t afford to exclude W.T.C. equipment

By David Stanke

The stiff wind of reality is finally blowing across the World Trade Center memorial plaza. The $1-billion-dollar estimate has shocked everyone, and even this estimate includes only direct construction costs. At the same time, weakness in fundraising clearly indicates that the public considers this memorial out of proportion. In response to this crisis, the comments from 9/11 family members groups are what we’ve heard before: demands for more features with no indication of compromises or sacrifices to reduce the cost.

The key to bringing memorial costs within reason is to shrink the below ground memorial and utilize the space in ways that reduce overall W.T.C. site development costs. Redevelopment of the site has been made far more expensive because of the sheer size of the memorial.

On 9/11, the entire infrastructure in the W.T.C. bathtub was destroyed along with the towers. Now, the Port Authority is digging new bathtubs for pre-9/11 infrastructure to keep the eight-acre memorial as clear as possible from bedrock to sky. If moving infrastructure back into the bathtub can decrease the cost of other Port Authority projects, the savings could help fund a more reasonably-priced memorial.

The original bathtub, which protected the Twin Towers from the Hudson River, needs to be supported from within. The towers, parking lots and other infrastructure also previously served this purpose. Without support from within, the bathtub will eventually fail. Returning parts of the pre-9/11 infrastructure to the bathtub would help defray these costs currently falling exclusively on the memorial.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg hit the right note in suggesting that a dramatic alteration is necessary to correct the situation. Unfortunately, his idea to move the memorial museum to unused space in the Freedom Tower does not solve the fundamental issues. The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. placed the museum in the bathtub to include the W.T.C. box beam columns and slurry wall remnants for historic purposes. If the museum were moved, this area would still have to be preserved and available for public access. The political will to alter this reality does not exist, so the Freedom Tower idea, I suspect will contribute little to the solution.

In addition, the designs for the memorial museum by Davis, Brody, Bond are far more impressive than anything that could exist within the Freedom Tower.

A “money is no object” attitude has dominated the discussions of the memorial panel, the L.M.D.C., preservationists, 9/11 family groups, and the Memorial Foundation, whose president resigned last week over the cost dispute.

Do we need to expose the original bathtub slurry wall? Exposing this cement wall, never meant for human sight, is very expensive. Preservationists are practically the only people who consider this important, as 9/11 family members have recently made clear to me in historic preservation meetings. If this wall is really historically significant, historic foundations should raise the needed money. If the walls are not exposed, no one will miss them.

There are other items to reconsider. Could the footprints simply be pools without fountains? Even with the fountains, the pools can be designed to be visually attractive without water to save on water heating facilities and maintenance costs for three months out of the year.

Preservation of the survivors’ staircase is under consideration without regard to costs. This whole area has to be rebuilt from the bedrock up, so keeping this stairwell in place is difficult and expensive. People who escaped on that stairwell view it as an important part of their 9/11 experience. But if this piece is valuable to them, shouldn’t they be raising the money to protect it?

There is a rule in consideration of historical assets — that they must be 50 years old to qualify. This rule is meant to prevent overrating the historical importance of items based on short-term emotional feelings. Similarly, most memorials are done many years after the signature event. This rule has been specifically ignored at the W.T.C., resulting in expensive and expansive plans that are only now being exposed.

Recapturing part of the bathtub and eliminating selected components of the memorial should produce significant cost savings. If you are concerned that compromises will rob you of a place of respect for 9/11 victims or survivors, explore the site today. There are already locations to pay respect and for quiet contemplation. A new tree-lined park with views of the W.T.C. site has opened at 7 W.T.C. Another park is opening by the southeast corner this week. There are seldom-used benches in the World Financial Center overlooking the site. There is a touching W.T.C. memorial in the W.F.C. near the northwest corner of the site and a memorial mural to the firemen who died on 9/11 will be unveiled shortly at the Liberty St. firehouse.

After spending time in any of these locations, ask yourself what more you really need for the memorial. The list will probably not be that long. If it is, ask yourself again, how much you would be willing to pay for it?

David Stanke, a Downtown resident and writer, was on the advisory panel to the W.T.C. Section 106 Historic Preservation process. His e-mail is davestanke@ebond.com.


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