I never voted to stop memorial fundraising

By Julie Menin

Last week Tom Johnson, chairperson of the board of directors of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation’s executive committee, released a statement to the press that the board was suspending fundraising. This is a decision with which I wholeheartedly disagree. It is imperative that we stop the turmoil and uncertainty that has surrounded the memorial and get fundraising for the memorial back on track. Moreover, any material action taken by the Memorial Foundation Board must be put to a board vote — but the board never voted to suspend fundraising.

As a juror on the ground zero memorial competition, I spent two years reviewing 5,000 design submissions. It is now distressing and unproductive to see such fractious debate and finger pointing over the memorial. When the jury selected Michael Arad’s “Reflecting Absence” design, we were told that the memorial would cost between $300 million and $350 million. The latest price tag from the foundation of $972 million for the memorial, museum and related infrastructure must be immediately value-engineered.

Despite the bloating cost of the memorial and the museum, however, it makes absolutely no sense for the foundation to suspend fundraising. Most of the parties involved in the memorial appear to agree that the cost should be capped at $500 million. The Memorial Foundation should be working towards the goal of raising this amount and should also be raising funds for the Performing Arts Center, which is critical to the revitalization of Lower Manhattan. Suspending fundraising (and doing so without a board vote) has only increased the doubt and turmoil already surrounding the project. The Memorial Foundation Board should immediately launch a national campaign and the mayor and the governor should aid the foundation by calling on their extensive contacts to support this important project.

In my capacity as the chairperson of Community Board 1, I have an obligation to represent the needs and interests of the people who live and work in Lower Manhattan. It is clear to me that the majority of our constituents want to see the World Trade Center site rebuilt as quickly as possible and are very distressed that almost five years after the tragic events of 9/11, we still have a gaping hole in the center of our district. While there has been progress rebuilding other parts of Lower Manhattan, the World Trade Center site itself remains beset by uncertainty and disagreement. The community board is all too familiar with the difficulty of resolving complicated planning issues. And rebuilding ground zero is particularly complex given the many uses (memorial, museum, commercial, retail, cultural, transportation) sharing the site and the many stakeholders interested in having their needs addressed at the site. Nonetheless, leaders are in place to resolve these issues and regrettably many of them have failed us during this planning process. But the time has come to resolve any remaining issues and to fill that void in the center of Lower Manhattan so as to insure the continued dynamic growth and well being of our commercial and residential communities.

As for the memorial, the community board has repeatedly recommended rational compromises with respect to preservation of historic elements on the site, the scale of the proposed museum and the extent of access to areas located below grade so as to eliminate engineering challenges and reduce the costs of the project. We also recommend that consideration be given to relocating the memorial museum to the base of the Freedom Tower as suggested by Mayor Bloomberg or to another site away from ground zero. Whatever changes are made to the design of the memorial and museum, we have also insisted on retaining certain key elements of the current design including adequate pedestrian access to and across the plaza and its integration with the surrounding neighborhood. Finally, we insist that any significant change in the design of the memorial and memorial museum be subject to an open and inclusive process that considers the interests of all stakeholders and specifically the residents and workers of Lower Manhattan.

Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1, is on the WTC Memorial Foundation’s board of directors and served on the jury that selected the W.T.C. memorial design.

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