9/11 memorial: officials struggle as costs could hit $700 million

Construction costs for the 9/11 memorial and museum are rising, with an other $60 million needed for yearly operations. A new commemorative medal is one way to help defray the costs.

Mike Segar/REUTERS
Treasurer of the United States Rosie Rios unveils the 2011 September 11 National Medal in New York Monday.

With costs for the 9/11 memorial and museum set to approach $700 million, officials are looking to new funding streams to help pay for current construction and future upkeep.

[Editor's note: The original version incorrectly stated that costs were set to approach $1 billion.]

On Monday, the United States Mint began selling silver commemorative 9/11 medals, with a portion of the sales going toward the ground zero memorial. If all 2 million medals are sold, they could bring $20 million to the memorial, which is set to open on Sept. 12, two years later than originally scheduled.

“Being able to raise $20 million through the sales of these medals is a huge help,” said Joe Daniels, president and CEO of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, at the press event Monday.

The announcement followed another by Mr. Daniels last Thursday at a New York City Council hearing: The museum might charge visitors a $20 entrance fee. On Monday, he called the proposed fee a “suggested donation” to help fund the museum and memorial, which he said could cost between $55 and $60 million per year to operate. The museum, which will occupy 100,000 square feet underground, is set to open in September 2012.

“Our first preference is not to charge an admission fee,” Daniels said Monday. But, he added, “Our primary obligation is to make sure that we maintain this site to the level that befits one of, if not the, most sacred sites in the United States.”

He also noted that the eight-acre memorial plaza, where two reflecting pools will fill the footprints of the twin towers, will be free to the public. Victims’ families will not be charged an entrance fee to the museum.

The memorial at ground zero, where construction began in 2006, was originally set to open on Sept. 11, 2009. Instead it will begin taking online reservations on July 11 before it opens to the public Sept. 12.

Congress authorized the US Mint to strike up to 2 million 9/11 medals, with $10 of the $56.95 sales price going to the 9/11 memorial. Daniels acknowledges that consumers might not buy all 2 million possible medals.

“The maximum $20 million is a very aspirational number,” he said.

The 9/11 medals, which went on sale at noon on Monday, are made of pure silver. On the heads side, they feature the image of Lady Liberty holding a lamp above the words "Always Remember" and standing in front of two light beams reminiscent of the annual “Tribute in Light” display at ground zero. Below her are the years, “2001-2011.”

The tails side shows an eagle perched atop the words, “Honor” and “Hope,” against a backdrop of cascading water. A US Mint spokesperson said the water symbolizes peace and healing, and also refers to the 30-foot waterfalls that will flow into the memorial’s reflecting pools.

US Treasurer Rosie Rios announced Monday that two hours after the medals went on sale, the Mint had already sold 12,000 of the one-ounce keepsakes. She says the remainder of the sales price goes solely towards production costs.

“We do not make money off of these,” Ms. Rios said.

“I think it’s beautiful that we have this,” said Anthoula Katsimatides at the 9/11 memorial preview site, where the medal was unveiled Monday. Ms. Katsimatides’ brother, John Katsimatides, was killed at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

“Lady Liberty looks so hopeful,” said Katsimatides, as tears streamed down her cheeks.

[Editor's note: The original version of the headline incorrectly stated that costs could hit $1 billion.]

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