The memorial’s cost problems have not been solved
By David Stanke
While Frank Sciame and a team of experts have worked over the World Trade Center memorial for cost reductions, the revenue side of the equation remains unanswered. Who is going to pay for Reflecting Absence and the 9/11 museum? With a $500 million cost estimate, the Memorial Foundation will still need to raise $170 million. But that does not cover maintenance costs. After savings identified by Sciame, maintenance costs may be nearly $50 million per year, requiring additional hundreds of millions up front.
Other memorials in this country are funded by private, voluntary contributions. Unfortunately, 9/11 doesn’t play by the same set of rules. The $500 million cost is still a high price to pay for “Absence.” America, with our strong tradition of modesty, will not contribute for over-the-top displays. This memorial will be heavily subsidized by government sources, especially the Port Authority.
Mayor Bloomberg’s voice has been most needed in introducing financial sanity to memorial considerations. He filled the leadership vacuum which allowed every decision to be second guessed. He has indicated that he will be looking for additional savings. His success at controlling costs is the best bet to energize fundraising.
Big name donors are apparently tapped out for now. Some sources walked away from the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation when two cultural institutions were eliminated. Other sources may have been scared away by the politicization of the “Take Back the Memorial” propaganda attack. Others have to question the enormous cost. At $130 million, private fundraising has already been successful, by any standard measure. But at the W.T.C., success is never enough. Miracles are expected.
The response from the general public has been lackluster. New York State taxpayers only contributed $150,000 to the memorial by checking a box on their return. The W.T.C. memorial was the second least popular of seven charitable check-off options. This should have been a wake-up call. New York is the state most affected by 9/11 in every way. The people most likely to “get it,” as some critics have phrased it, will not direct their dollars to the memorial.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. has already dedicated $200 million to the memorial. These funds were meant to undo the economic damage of the terror attacks and to ensure that Al Qaeda’s attempt to bring down the United States’ financial district did not succeed. Pulling more of these funds is an insult.
Another source of public money for the memorial is Port Authority spending. Ultimately, P.A. expenses are a tax on New York and New Jersey transportation costs. The P.A. will officially pay for $100 million infrastructure costs. Another $50 million of the original $300 million infrastructure will likely be pushed on the Port.
The federal government may be asked to cover more of the memorial’s costs. The 9/11 name drives a lot of federal decisions. The cost of the war and rebuilding Iraq dwarf the $20 billion for Downtown and the $3 billion for the Victims Compensation Fund. So what’s a couple hundred million for this country to pay for a memorial? Fortunately, government does not justify projects by comparison to war costs. National public opinion will not be sympathetic to contributing more.
New York State is already spending $80 million on the visitors center. The cost of this center is not even included in the current round of estimates. This expense was put directly on New York State taxpayers by Gov. Pataki to avoid embarrassment at the overall cost of the memorial.
A partial solution is to charge admission to the museum and visitors center. But many family members have rejected this idea. They are confident that 9/11 tourists will spend hundreds of millions and drive a Downtown financial boom, but do not want these tourists to pay for their prime destination. The Tribute Center (funded by the L.M.D.C.) will not even charge visitors. Those opposed to fees prefer charging people who aren’t actually going to the museum.
Do not expect contributions from other obvious sources of funding. Preservationists have driven up costs through uncompromising determination to preserve an expanse of artifacts. The Sciame costs do not include the “Survivor’s Staircase,” which has been put on the National Registry of Endangered Artifacts. The preservationist community has done a lot of talking and little more.
Do not expect a lot of sympathy from Downtown. We have already seen 50 percent of the W.T.C. site, all previously part of our public space, dedicated exclusively for the remembrance of 9/11. That is an extremely generous forced contribution.
The 9/11 families who have demanded these memorial facilities and acres of “sacred ground” are not generating funds. While their media access remains strong, their fundraising power is spent. There have been enough rumors of extravagant spending of Victims Compensation Funds to deter contributors. Additional money would be better spent on college for kids who lost parents than on an over-sized memorial.
David Stanke, who lives and writes Downtown, is a member of the L.M.D.C.’s Memorial Center Advisory Committee.