Memorial Chief Expects 'Freely Accessed' Plaza by Next Year

File photo of the Sept. 11 Memorial Museum and plaza. Memorial president Joe Daniels said he expects some construction fences to come down next year and the plaza to be integrated into the surrounding neighborhood. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jul. 12, 2013

The fences will come down and the airport-like security screening will end next year, allowing free access to the World Trade Center site’s eight-acre 9/11 Memorial Plaza.

That’s what Joe Daniels, president and CEO of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, says he expects for the tourist-packed plaza, where visitors now funnel onto the site through a single entry point, by way of time-stamped tickets and multiple security checks. In a wide-ranging discussion with a Community Board 1 committee on Monday, July 8, Daniels said he is “confident” that there will be unfettered access to the memorial “as close to the opening of the museum as possible.”

The museum is expected to open sometime next spring, but a date is yet to be set.

“There’s a bunch of activities that have to happen—all of them are on track right now,” he told the committee, “and certainly within the next couple of months we’ll be prepared to get more specific about the actual opening period.”

The memorial’s objective, he said, is to allow people to freely visit the plaza and go through screening only when entering the museum. He estimated that about half of the people who go to the plaza will continue into the museum. (Last year, the museum saw more than 5 million visitors.)

A phased dismantling of the fencing that now borders the WTC site must be coordinated with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the site’s owner, and Silverstein Properties, which is developing three WTC buildings. “We’re in constant dialogue with the Port Authority, with Silverstein,” Daniels said, “about when that can happen.”

Funding Needs Remain

How to cover the estimated $60 million it will cost annually to run the museum? Museum officials are counting on two-thirds of the money to come from the controversial $20 to $25 admission fee they are contemplating and private fundraising. A bill before the U.S. Senate, stalled since it was introduced in 2011, would finance the remaining $20 million.

The law’s passage, Daniels noted, is a “singular objective” of the memorial’s. “It’s Washington as Washington and it’s been very difficult, but we’re not giving up,” he said.

Protecting Against the Next Flood

Ongoing construction around the museum made the building prone to flooding, Daniels told the committee. In particular, the open roof of the Vehicle Security Center allowed several feet of Hudson River water to rush into the site. 

Daniels described the new flood protection measures slated for the museum, including “layering redundancy upon redundancy” to protect the unidentified human remains to be stored in the museum's lowest level.  An “emergency protocol” is being developed, he said, that would involve moving precious artifacts to higher ground. The memorial is also waterproofing doors and installing additional pumps in the museum’s most vulnerable areas, such as its loading docks.

“They’re doing a lot of stuff,” he noted, “[like] closing up every penetration that comes into the museum. We’re confident that our commitment to protecting artifacts will hold.”

Visitor Centers: One Stays, the Other Goes

Even after the museum opens, the heavily visited 9/11 Memorial Preview Site, at 20 Vesey St., between Church and Broadway, will remain, according to Daniels. “The fact is that since the museum will only hold 2.5 million people over the course of a year and we have a demand north of five million," he xplained, "it’ll still be a place for real, substantive content.”

But the memorial’s Visitor Center, at 90 West St.—purposely situated near the current exit of the memorial plaza—will likely close next year. The memorial staff, Daniels said, is exploring other locations for the center, since visitors will be leaving from more than one exit starting next year.

Memorial Still No Place for the Sphere

Daniels reiterated the memorial’s opposition to bringing  Fritz Koenig’s 22.5-ton sculpture “The Sphere,” temporarily standing in Battery Park, to the memorial grounds. “The last we heard [is that] the Port Authority is still exploring the other eight acres around the site, he said, all of which would make an appropriate place for the sphere.”

WTC Campus Security Plan

Daniels said that, as a stakeholder of the 16-acre World Trade Center, the memorial supports the NYPD’s World Trade Center Campus Security Plan, so long as the site is maintained as a “living piece” of the city. “Our bottom line is [to have] pedestrian access to the memorial that’s not a ticketed experience,” he said, “and we believe that the security plan accommodates that.”