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The Grief Police

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Unless he cuts a personal check, even our billionaire mayor can’t resolve the epic problems the site now faces. The Freedom Tower remains tenantless, and Silverstein’s nearly complete 7 World Trade Center has just two lessees. The LMDC is politically compromised after Pataki’s latest override (last week, in dueling bids to gain greater control over the future of ground zero, Blooomberg named four top members of his administration to the LMDC board, and Pataki responded by appointing two top members of his administration). The Gehry performing-arts center, despite a $50 million start-up grant, has no fund-raising in place. Who or what will occupy the cultural building is unclear, and its design is being reconsidered.

Fund-raising for the Arad memorial and museum, meanwhile, is months behind schedule. “Many of our major funders were corporations,” says Gretchen Dykstra, the memorial-foundation head, “and they didn’t want to be involved in controversy.” But without another tent-pole institution like the IFC, there is less of a potential draw for large-scale corporate gifts: It’s impossible to think of anything in the memorial blazing the name of a corporate sponsor (the American Express Gallery of Heroes?). Making matters worse, estimated construction costs for the memorial and museum have since increased from $500 million to $800 million, and that isn’t even counting the approximately $500 million the complex would need for an operating endowment.

Then there’s the matter of how to handle the families. If they could stop one part of the plan so effectively, what’s to say they can’t stop another? In fact, that’s just what they plan to do. Lawsuits are already in motion over the remains at Fresh Kills, courtesy of Diane and Kurt Horning, and the PATH tracks that infringe on part of the footprints, via plaintiff Anthony Gardner. “They want every square inch of this for the PATH and their office space,” says Gardner, who lost his brother Harvey. Burlingame has made noise in the press about watching the shape of retail development. As for the cultural center, the group will be pressing the LMDC to hand over the Snøhetta building site so that the WTC Memorial and Museum can handle some 25 million visitors a year—five times that of the Statue of Liberty—though professionals know that interest dies down for even blockbuster memorials after a few years. And Edie Lutnick, Anthony Gardner, and Bill Doyle have applied with two others as a bloc to be board members of the WTC Memorial Foundation, even though there are seven family members on the board already. They believe the current design needs major alterations, from increasing the number of entrance ramps to providing access to bedrock. Gretchen Dykstra says they’re welcome to apply, but delicately adds she is looking for geographic and international diversity on the board, not to mention the ability to fund-raise.

Will the families ever be satisfied? “I could write about 1,000 books about stories that should be told,” says Bill Doyle. “These stories could probably take up the entire sixteen-acre site. And to condense it all into a tiny room in a small underground museum? I don’t think there’s a 9/11 person out there who wouldn’t want all sixteen acres.”

To the extent that the state has developed a strategy for coping with the families, it appears to be one of containment. Pataki signaled the new tactic in September when he emphasized the sanctity of what he called the “memorial quadrant,” a six-acre portion of the site that encompasses the Arad memorial and museum and the cultural building. His goal seems to be to placate the families by giving them influence over just those six acres—though no one in power will say as much. “I would say we have more definition now than we did prior to this controversy regarding the memorial quadrant,” says Stefan Pryor, Kevin Rampe’s successor as LMDC president.

It’s difficult to believe that fifteen people could one day control the entire site, assuring that nothing but a memorial gets built. Then again, only a fool would underestimate those who have already lost so much and are willing to give up even more. The families, in a sense, have nothing left to lose.

“You’re dealing with a whole lot of people whose loved ones have been vaporized,” Take Back the Memorial member Charlie Wolf says over lunch in midtown.

Middle-aged with dark, soulful eyes, Wolf is proud of what he’s accomplished since September 11. He’s campaigned successfully to fix the victims’ fund, joined a lawsuit to force the Port Authority to adhere to the city’s building codes, demonstrated in Washington to persuade the White House to follow the 9/11 Commission recommendations, and, of course, campaigned against the IFC. “For me, the work has been healing,” he says.


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