Eleven years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center site has become a major draw for visitors to New York, even as a funding dispute halted construction and delayed the opening of the site’s centerpiece museum.
But on the eve of the 11-year anniversary of 9/11, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum reached an agreement to end the dispute and put the project back on track.
The museum originally had been slated to open last week, one year after the memorial site opened to the public.
Last Monday, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the Port Authority, which owns the site, and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which leases it, in which both parties agreed that construction of the museum will proceed as long as the Port Authority has access to all financial information and can confirm that the museum has sufficient resources to pay its future operating costs.
Those terms resolve th
e concerns that arose earlier this year regarding the museum’s financing and oversight.
“By ensuring that no additional public funds are spent to complete the memorial and museum, today’s agreement puts in place a critical and long-overdue safeguard to finally protect toll payers and taxpayers from bearing further costs and, at the same time, puts the project on a path for completion,” Cuomo said in a statement.
The museum should take about a year to complete from the time construction restarts, according to an official with the National September 11 Memorial &
Museum. No date has been given as to when construction will resume.
Once completed, the 110,000 square feet of exhibition space will tell the story of 9/11 through multimedia displays, narratives and a collection of artifacts. The museum will honor the lives of those killed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the Feb. 26, 1993, bombing of the World Trade Center.
The museum will exhibit portraits of the nearly 3,000 men, women and children whose lives were lost, as well as profiles of individual victims.
Upon entering the glass-enclosed museum, visitors will descend a ramp into the main exhibition space. Artifacts on display will include the Vesey Street stair, also known as the “Survivors’ Stairs,” down which hundreds escaped.
There will also be remnants of structural columns that now delineate the footprints of the original Twin Towers, and portions of the original foundations of the Towers.
The museum’s collection will be constantly evolving, according to an official, who noted that the curators will be collecting in perpetuity.
In a statement Sept. 10, Bloomberg said, “As chairman of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum board, which is made up of supporters and family members who so successfully opened the completed memorial last year, my goal during this period has been to get construction on the museum restarted. This agreement ensures that it will be restarted very soon and will not stop until the museum is completed.”
In addition to the museum, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum anticipates that the construction of One World Trade Center, popularly known as Freedom Tower, will be completed within the next two years. When completed, it will be the tallest building in the U.S., at 1,776 feet, and is expected to be another visitor highlight of the World Trade Center site.
The WTC transportation hub designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava is being constructed as a multistory central transit hall like Grand Central Terminal, with a variety of restaurants and stores. It is slated to open in 2015, according to reports, marking another phase of the area’s reinvention.
As for visiting the 9/11 Memorial site amid its evolving environs, free passes are available to reserve online up to six months prior to visiting, and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum recommends that visitors reserve them as far in advance as possible. Only a limited number of passes are available for same-day entry.
Even though the museum remains unfinished and unopened, the memorial welcomed about 4.6 million visitors since it opened last September, making it the second-most popular of the city’s many attractions.
For example, the Empire State Building welcomes more than 3.5 million visitors per year, and the High Line, the mile-long aerial greenway built on a former elevated railroad spur, counted more than 3.7 million visitors in 2011.
Only the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which counted nearly 6.3 million people during the year ended June 30, was more popular with visitors than the memorial. Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.