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Financing 9/11 Memorials: Money, Control and Plain Old Fashioned Politics

September 11, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Now we come back to the 9/11 anniversary. There were three ceremonies today, but much of the commemoration remains incomplete.

It’s been four years to the day since the 9/11 National Memorial was dedicated at the Pentagon, 184 benches, one for each victim killed 11 years ago. Last year, on September 10, another memorial opened in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed into a field.

There, a central plaza leads to 40 marble panels, one for each of the crew and passengers who perished. Money is still being raised to pay for a memorial tower and walkway.

And, in New York, the National Sept. 11 Memorial opened last year. Twin reflecting pools now sit where the World Trade Center towers stood. Bronze panels are inscribed with the names of all those killed on 9/11.

But 11 years after the Twin Towers fell, the final portion of $700 million New York project, an ambitious underground museum, remains incomplete, as city, state and federal governments disagree over who pays what and for how long.

New York Times reporter Charles Bagli has covered the transformation of the World Trade Center site in the years since 9/11. He joins us now.

Charles, there have been sites, memorials at least, opened at all three sites now. What’s been the holdup with the museum in New York?

CHARLES BAGLI, The New York Times: Well, first off, this is a particularly difficult site.

You have a lot of projects cramped into 16 acres. And you had a lot of discussion about what exactly should go on here. So, it’s taken 10 years to get to this point.

They did an accelerated schedule to open the memorial plaza on the 10th anniversary a year ago. But then, immediately afterwards, the two governors who control the Port Authority, which own the land, decided to stop construction at the museum until they settled a variety of issues that boiled down really to money and control.

GWEN IFILL: So, are we talking about a problem that involves the construction, the vision for what would go there, or just plain old-fashioned politics?

CHARLES BAGLI: Plain old-fashioned politics and money.

The situation is where you have got a private foundation that’s in charge of both the museum and the memorial. And they have raised a certain amount of money for construction. On the other hand, their contractor in essence is the Port Authority. And the Port Authority was concerned, among other things, about whether or not any cost overruns would fall back on them.

And so they wanted to try and contain it. In the run-up to the 10th anniversary, both at the museum and at the memorial, they were doing three shifts. So it was going full blast. It’s very expensive. So — and what they wanted to do was stop the accelerated schedule among other things, but there were also some control issues.

You had on the one hand the foundation which is headed by the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, and the Port Authority, which is controlled by the governor of New York and the governor of New Jersey. They don’t always see eye to eye.

GWEN IFILL: Charles, when you say that this is very expensive, how much more is this ending up costing than was originally planned?

CHARLES BAGLI: Well, that’s hard to say. A lot of this is about who is going to pay those costs. But in the end, it’s a billion-dollar museum, all told.

When you put together the money that the foundation has raised, hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds from both the federal government and from the state government, Port Authority money, it’s a billion dollars.

It’s a very expensive museum. And it’s also — there were questions raised by the two governors, why does a private foundation have sole authority here, when there’s so much public money at stake?

GWEN IFILL: So, now an agreement has been reached, or at least among those two governors, and to move forward.

Yet, here in Washington, there’s at least one congressman who is raising — a senator who is raising questions about whether the upkeep money, $20 million a year that would come from the federal government, should be spent this way.

CHARLES BAGLI: That’s right.

What we’re talking about right now are the construction costs. The next issue is, once the museum is open, it’s got a projected budget of $60 million.

So, where is that money going to come from?

They expect that there will be millions of visitors who down come to the museum, which is seven stories underground and look around, and they will pay some sort of — or contribute some sort of admission fee.

And — but they want more — they need more money than that. And so the New York senator submitted a bill that would have the federal government supply about $20 million a year towards the operating costs.

And this got held up by another senator who had some issues…

GWEN IFILL: Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, right?

CHARLES BAGLI: Yes, Tom Coburn, that’s right.

And he brought up this issue that, well, I don’t want to just put another bill for Congress to pay.

The money — where is that money going to come from? It’s an unpaid bill, essentially. And so it’s been stalled.

GWEN IFILL: Assuming that now this construction gets under way, maybe in time for next year’s anniversary, what would this museum be?

Seventy-five percent of it is already complete. Some people have seen some of it. What would be there down those seven flights?

CHARLES BAGLI: Well, number one, you’re going to see that there will be the remains of a lot of the people who were sort of blown up in the terrorist attack.

There will be a lot of artifacts, pieces of the World Trade Center that were left over, including — including an iron beam that formed sort of a cross where mass was held during the cleanup.

There will be audio-visual displays and lots of photographs, including a lot of material concerning the victims, the people that died in the terrorist attack, as well as the 19 hijackers who basically rammed the planes into the two towers.

GWEN IFILL: And as far as we know, this is now back on track?

CHARLES BAGLI: Construction should resume at the end of the month, and barring any future disagreement, it would take maybe a year, maybe a little longer, to complete.

GWEN IFILL: Charles Bagli of The New York Times.

CHARLES BAGLI: And then it will be up and running.

GWEN IFILL: Thank you so much. Charles Bagli of the New York Times, thanks for joining us.

You can find a timeline of the stops and the starts in the construction of the Sept. 11 Museum on our website. Also there, you can revisit our coverage of the 10th anniversary of the attack.