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Officials debate WTC museum admission fees

New York lawmakers are debating if they should charge for a museum  honoring Sept. 11 victims. State lawmakers passed motions barring funds for the project if admission is charged. The. governor threatened to veto the motion.
An artist's rendering shows a ground level view of the proposed redesign of the World Trade Center memorial. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said about $50 million a year would be needed to run the memorial site. Lower Manhattan Development Corp / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

After wrestling with the costs and design of the Sept. 11 memorial, planners face another dilemma — whether to charge admission to the museum honoring those who died at the World Trade Center.

The state Assembly on Friday approved a bill barring any state money from going to the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation if admission is charged. The state Senate approved an identical measure Thursday.

The bill’s fate, though, is unclear.

Gov. George Pataki indicated he would veto the measure, saying the museum needs income to cover its substantial operating costs.

Any plan to charge admission wouldn’t apply to most of the memorial, including a visitor’s center, reflecting pools and walls containing the names of the dead. Those areas would remain free, Pataki said.

Without fees, no building?
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday on his weekly radio show that a ban on admission charges was a bad idea.

“I hope the governor vetoes the bill because it’s probably true that without being able to charge, we can’t build the memorial,” he said.

The mayor said that of the estimated $500 million cost of the memorial, half will come from public funds, “and the city can’t be in a position down the road where people say, ’Oh, come on, you’ve got to pay for all the maintenance.”’

About $50 million a year would be needed to run the memorial site, Bloomberg said, including security costs and a fund for repairs.

Elsewhere in the country, there is no clear precedent on charging admission. In Oklahoma City, where the 1995 terrorist bombing of a federal building killed 168 people, general admission to the National Memorial & Museum is $8. But the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial, which is open 24 hours a day, is free.

Foundation opposes bill
In Washington, admission is free to both the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In New York, the issue of admission fees to the Ground Zero museum is far from resolved. Admission to the outdoor memorial will be free, the foundation says.

On Friday, the three top foundation officials sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, saying they strongly oppose the bill.

“This bill threatens to undermine the long-term care and operations of the memorial and museum at Ground Zero,” said the letter signed by John C. Whitehead, the foundation’s chairman, as well as Thomas S. Johnson, chairman of its executive committee, and acting President Joseph C. Daniels.

The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Martin Golden, who said that charging for visitors to see a memorial to the more than 2,700 people who died on Sept. 11, 2001, is distasteful.

“Could you imagine a mom, dad, son or daughter having to pay to go in where their loved one died?” asked Golden.

But foundation spokeswoman Lynn Rasic said that even if the public is charged fees, the museum would be free of charge to any family member or loved one of those who died on Sept. 11.

The opening of the museum and memorial is slated for 2009.