Memorial cuts please many; cost questions remain


By Josh Rogers

Under the design changes, people entering the visitors center, at right in bottom rendering, will pass through security and be able to proceed down through the museum to the underground sections of the memorial or they will be able to continue to the memorial plaza. The names of the victims will be written on the walls overlooking waterfalls at the Twin Tower footprints, above left.

Leaders of 9/11 family and residential groups this week praised the cost-saving cuts construction czar Frank Sciame made to the World Trade Center memorial design.

The names of the 2,979 people known to have been murdered in the Sept. 11 attack or the 1993 W.T.C. bombing will be moved up to street-level walls surrounding two waterfalls leading down toward the footprints of the Twin Towers.

Charles Wolf, whose wife died in the attack and who opposed moving the names from underground, said he agreed with Sciame’s changes because he had not realized how noisy the waterfalls would be underground while visitors read the names. He thought having the names at street level would be too close to the noise and crowds of the city, but he is now convinced the sound of the waterfalls flowing underneath the names will be enough to drown out city noise without being overwhelming.

Visitors also will not get wet on windy days unless they go to one remaining underground area where they can get close to the water.

Wolf walked around imagining what it would be like to come across his wife’s name with all of the others. “The names are here and you hear the roar of the waterfalls there — it is powerful,” he said pointing down. “I’m getting choked up thinking about it.”

He said the name move will save about $5 million a year because there will only be one security check-in point for the museum and underground section of the memorial. Sciame was able to shave $11.6 million off the annual operating costs as a result of his construction cuts.

Downtown Express first reported on June 8 that Sciame was likely to recommend moving the names to street level, keeping the museum underground and not eliminating any of the trees from the plaza. The paper also reported that Sciame was considering eliminating the waterfalls, but Sciame said Tuesday that although the change would have saved a significant amount of money, it was too central to the design to be cut.

The estimate for the memorial and museum is down from $672 million to $510 million — close to the $500 million limit Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki set when they enlisted Sciame to trim the costs in May. The infrastructure costs are down to $178 million from $301 million. With an $80 million, street-level visitors center that will connect visitors to the underground museum and bedrock area, the total cost of the area called the memorial quadrant will be $768 million.

Sciame found $285 million worth of construction savings off the estimate by Bovis Lend Lease, which was commissioned by the W.T.C. Memorial Foundation.

Officials hope to begin memorial construction in July and finish by September 11, 2009, the eighth anniversary of the attack.

Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1 and a member of the jury that selected the original design said of the changes: “It’s absolutely a step in the right direction and very positive.”

Anthony Gardner, whose brother was killed in the attack and is the leader of the Coalition of 9/11 Families, said Sciame improved a troubled design. “We think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “We’re maybe halfway there.”

He wants to have more of the bedrock area accessible to the public and to let family members decide which tower site to have their loved one’s names listed and to allow the names to be grouped together by firm, firehouse, precinct and flight.

Sciame, who heads his own construction and development firms in the Seaport and holds an architectural degree, said even with the cuts, the design’s most important elements remain. He was proud that the plaza will not be altered – it will still be a forest of oak trees of about six acres surrounding the footprints and will have the same type of granite.

“We have not changed the plaza,” he said “This is one of the greatest plazas in the world…. The memorial, for sure, will be the centerpiece of Lower Manhattan.”

Visitors to the plaza will be able to walk directly to the names and waterfalls without passing through security. The security check will be in the visitors center, which will lead to the underground sections. Those wishing to see the underground memorial area at bedrock will have to pay a museum admission fee if there is one.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the memorial area and the rest of the W.T.C., has committed $100 million toward the infrastructure and will be asked to cover $50 million more of the $78 million shortfall.

Sciame said the Port should take over construction of the memorial since they are already building the site’s train center and slurry walls. With control of $5 billion worth of construction, one entity will be able to cut the number of consultants needed and can easily shave one percent of the costs, $50 million, Sciame said. In addition, the Port is getting back about 30,000 – 50,000 square feet of underground storage space with the elimination of most of the underground name galleries and a smaller museum.

“The Port Authority recognizes that by controlling the entire site, there are huge economies of scale,” Sciame said. “We would be able to give them back real estate infrastructure in exchange for infrastructure costs.”

The Port, which met with Sciame as the report was being prepared, has not yet adopted that analysis. Steve Coleman, a P.A. spokesperson, said “it’s a little premature for us to go along with the $50 million infrastructure costs.” He said the Port’s board of commissioners, appointed by the New York and New Jersey governors, are scheduled to meet June 29 and are likely to discuss this idea.

The remaining $28 million deficit will be covered by 9/11-related, federal transportation funds. Sciame said this will cover part of the price tag of the sidewalks surrounding the eight-acre memorial quadrant and are being “appropriately shared” with the other nearby projects.

The W.T.C. Memorial Foundation, which is fundraising for the memorial and is expected to own it and the proposed performing arts center, praised the Sciame report. In a prepared statement, Joe Daniels, the foundation’s acting president, also said the Port taking over memorial construction would be the best solution “under the right circumstances,” without elaborating further.

The Port will someday transfer ownership of the memorial to the foundation and the prevailing assumption among rebuilding officials is it will involve a land swap with two Liberty St. properties owned by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. The corporation, a federally-funded temporary state-city authority, was set up by Pataki to oversee the rebuilding and memorial efforts Downtown.

The L.M.D.C. is contributing $250 million to the foundation’s new $510 million construction cost goal. The foundation has raised $131 million privately and is preparing a national advertising campaign for the balance. Sciame has brought the foundation’s annual operating costs down to $61 million but it will still need to find about $8 million a year if Sciame’s revenue projections are accurate.

Pataki and Bloomberg, who were presented with the report June 15, have now endorsed it. It was released on the L.M.D.C. Web site, www.renewnyc.com, June 20 and the public has seven days to respond.

Kevin Rampe, chairperson of the L.M.D.C. and a member of the Memorial Foundation’s board, said the comment period time is more than enough since the design did not change much. “I think there’s plenty of time,” he told Downtown Express. “I don’t think there’s a lot that’s new.”

Councilmember Alan Gerson said a “seven-day comment period after years of a process and delays seems inadequate.” He said there should be a formal public presentation and hearing and the changes should have a thorough security review to avoid yet another redesign as happened with the Freedom Tower.

Sciame said architect Peter Walker, who desgined the memorial’s plaza ,was a strong advocate for keeping the waterfalls, but Sciame would not comment on the reaction of architect Michael Arad, who conceived the orginal idea.

Arad, in a prepared statement, said he agreed to “painful cuts,” particularly the “loss of the underground memorial galleries…. While I am disappointed by this change, I recognize the imperative to move forward and begin construction of the memorial as soon as possible.”

With reporting by Ronda Kaysen

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