Faced with hefty operating costs, the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum announced Saturday that they decided to charge an admission fee of $20 to $25 when the site opens next year.
The decision was greeted with dismay by elected officials and some relatives of 9/11 victims.
“Given the significance of the memorial, museum and this location to New Yorkers and the nation, I don’t believe a mandatory fee should be in place that would prohibit access to the public,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said.
“People are coming to pay their respects and for different reasons,” said Janice Testa of Valley Stream, whose firefighter brother Henry Miller Jr. died at the twin towers. “It shouldn’t be a place where you go and see works of art. It should more be like a memorial place … that there’s no entry fee.”
But Debra Burlingame, a foundation board member whose brother was the pilot of one of the hijacked planes, said the site is expensive to build on and to protect.
“The World Trade Center site remains a target of interest among terrorists, so the security has to be robust and relentless,” Burlingame said. “There’s a big price tag on that.”
“Would we like to be able to say this is free? Absolutely,” Burlingame added. But it is “irresponsible to hope that year after year we have donations that will cover an expense like security.”
Ex-MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, who is running for mayor on the Republican line, called on Washington to help foot the bill.
“It’s an outrage that our federal government is abdicating its duty to memorialize those lost in our nation’s greatest tragedy,” he said.
Rep. Pete King (R-Long Island) said a bill is in the works for the feds to contribute $20 million annually to the museum, just as they subsidize the Smithsonian and Pearl Harbor museums. But he admitted that would not cover the museum’s estimated $60 million operating costs. New York Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand both support that plan.
The memorial plaza opened in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks, but disputes over funding have pushed the museum’s opening to 2014.
“This is something that is going to be important and is going to be worth the expenditure,” Joseph Daniels, president of the foundation, said.
Daniels said the museum will be free during certain hours every week and will offer student and senior discounts. Entry to the memorial plaza with its twin reflecting pools will still be free.
On Friday, the museum received a low-interest $15 million loan from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the foundation’s chairman. He made the lowest possible interest rate of less than 0.3 percent so it would qualify as a loan rather than a gift.
“The fact our chairman was able to extend a loan on such favorable terms is something we all recognize as something tremendously generous,” Daniels said.
The museum is estimated to cost around $700 million. The foundation has received more than $425 million from the state and the federal government and the Port Authority. It’s also raised over $450 million in private donations.