Chief Leader - June 19, 2012by SARAH DORSEY
9/11 Families: Museum Just a Tourist AttractionA group of 9/11 families renewed its call June 10 for the National Park Service to take over the Sept. 11 memorial and museum.
The organization, which represents about 100 families of firefighters lost at the World Trade Center, said it was frustrated by cost overruns incurred by the private non-profit that runs the site. A spokesman also cited executives' high salaries and political struggles between the foundation, which is run by Mayor Bloomberg, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is run by Governor Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
'Just a Tourist Attraction'
"It's just becoming a revenue-generating tourist attraction," said retired FDNY Chief Jim Riches, chair of 9/11 Parents & Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims. "...It's not something where I go down there and feel like it's a memorial to my son at all."
The group originally called for a Park Service takeover in February. Shortly after, it released the results of an e-mail survey in which 95 percent of respondents--about 330 9/11 families--said they wanted the unidentified remains of their loved ones stored aboveground and outside the museum area, in a site similar to the Tomb of the Unknowns in Washington, D.C. The Sept. 11 memorial foundation plans to house them seven stories underground in the museum, in an area accessible only to friends and family members 24 hours a day. Spokesmen said they arrived at this decision after numerous requests for input from families.
The Port Authority, which owns the site, halted most work on the museum in September, charging that the foundation owed it as much as $300 million. Since then, the foundation, which has raised $430 million in private donations, has agreed to pay it $50 million over several years. Port Authority officials two weeks ago proposed that the agency oversee the project more closely, after the Daily News reported that the cost had ballooned from $680 million to $1.3 billion. Governor Cuomo told reporters that a "tremendous amount of money" had been wasted at the site.
The New York Times reported June 8 that city officials rebuffed the Port Authority proposal to assert greater control, saying that its donors had "created and paid for" the museum and that it shouldn't be "a prize for politicians" to fight over.
Says Salaries are Bloated
Mr. Riches said he was impressed with both the Pearl Harbor memorial and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania site that commemorates those who died on United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11. Both are run by the National Park Service. He added that the families he's spoken to are "very pleased" with the Shanksville site.
He questioned the $60 million the foundation projects it will need annually to run the museum, a third of which may come from the Federal Government. National Park Service spokesman David Barna said the budget for its most expensive park--Yellowstone--is about $40 million a year, and it covers 2.2 million acres, employs 400 people and has 3.4 million visitors a year. The 9/11 memorial has had more than 3 million visitors since Sept. 12, 2011.
Mr. Riches was also angered by the high salaries of the foundation's officers. The 9/11 Memorial's 2010 financial form lists compensation for its top four executives at between $332,000 and $439,000 annually. Mr. Barna said a 30-year veteran running one of the nation's largest national parks, like Yellowstone or Yosemite, would max out at about $170,000 a year.
But for the Park Service to take over the memorial would mean wresting control from the two powerful entities--controlled by Mayor Bloomberg and Governors Cuomo and Christie--that own and run the site. It would also require an act of Congress.
Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler drew up legislation to turn the memorial over to the Park Service in 2002, a move supported by the Coalition of 9/11 Families, but it didn't pass.
Some Find 'Solace' at Site
Not all who lost loved ones on 9/11 oppose the foundation's administration of the memorial. Ten family members signed a letter in support of a Federal bill to pay $20 million of its annual budget, saying they've found "solace" and "peace" there.
But Mr. Riches said he thought it was becoming too commercialized. He said he was irritated by the sale of expensive key chains at the gift shop inscribed with the line from Virgil that adorns the wall where the remains will be kept.
"They're gonna have pictures of the terrorists up and pictures of people jumping out the windows," he said. While he understands the value of telling the story of what happened on that day, he said he didn't trust that the museum would do it respectfully.
"I think they're crossing the line to make it like a P.T. Barnum production," he said. "There's tourists all over there eating their lunch [on the lawn] and I'm supposed to memorialize my son there?"