Now, there comes word again that officials are contemplating a $25 fee for visiting the September 11 Museum and Memorial. That's outraging victims' families and local politicians as it should. It's abhorrent that someone should have to pay to visit the site of the nation's worst terror attack to memorialize and commemorate the lives taken on that fateful day.
A proposal that could hit visitors to the Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum with a fee of up to $25 is fueling outrage among families, tourists and elected officials.One way that the fee could be avoided is if Albany and/or Washington puts aside partisan political differences and passes a supplementary bill to fully fund the museum and memorial so that it is free. At the same time, a closer look at the costs incurred by the nonprofit organization that is overseeing the project is overdue. This is a site of national significance and it should be free and open to the public just as other locations of national significance, including Federal Hall in Manhattan, the Washington Mall, Pearl Harbor, and Mount Rushmore (though there is a parking fee there).
"This was supposed to be a place of valor, remembrance and reverence," said retired FDNY Deputy Chief Jim Riches, whose firefighter son, Jimmy, 29, died in the north tower.
"They might as well sell lemonade and T-shirts if they're going to become a(n) ... admission-charging tourist attraction."
Memorial & Museum President Joe Daniels vows the memorial will always be free, but says it must find permanent funds to cover costs of up to $60 million a year.
Lobbyists are trying to get Congress to establish a fixed annual federal donation. If that happens, there could be no charge or a modest $10 or $15 fee.
If Washington nixes the bid, a $25 "suggested donation" or $20 mandatory fee could be imposed.
Putting the arm on museumgoers sends the wrong message, said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the powerful Democrat who represents downtown.
"I had hoped there would be no charge," he said. "We want the whole world to see this place - so all generations can know the terrorists did not win."
Other critics note that salaries for the nonprofit's 87 staffers total $5.5 million - or almost 10% of operating costs.
The memorial pays more than $100,000 to 16 employees. Eight of them earn more than $200,000 and four make more than $300,000, tax filings show.
Perhaps a parking fee could be the way to ensure that the memorial and museum are free for future generations - since many people visiting the site will be coming by tour buses, fees for those buses making stops in Lower Manhattan should be imposed and an additional $1 per vehicle fee imposed on parking garages below Canal Street to help fund the project and to provide additional local services. That would make more sense than imposing entry fees even if they are a suggestion and not a mandatory fee.