1:12 pm Mar. 6, 2012
In a media scrum following a transportation panel last week, Pat Foye, the Port Authority’s recently minted executive director, talked of making strides at One World Trade Center, the $3.8 billion skyscraper formerly known as the Freedom Tower.
”Progress continues,” said Foye. “[The] building is over 50 percent leased, and we’re working on the 92nd and 93rd floors as we speak.”
The day before, construction workers had installed 52 pieces of steel at One World Trade, and erected nine steel beams at the Santiago Calatrava-designed transit hub, which has a nearly $4 billion price tag and will serve 60,000 New Jersey commuters daily.
But the construction of the $800-plus million September 11 Memorial and Museum, which, along with the recently completed memorial plaza, represents the symbolic heart of the redevelopment, is at a standstill.
Late on Friday afternoon, tourists scoured the perimeter of the glass-and-steel clad pavilion for a bit of non-reflective glass through which to peer at the exhibition space below. They had some luck on the pavilion’s western facade, behind which dusty yellow scaffolding was just visible, and on its northern face, where seven-story tridents, remnants of the original towers facades, stood sentinel in the near-dark.
When the Port Authority took over the museum's construction in 2006, it said it would open the doors three years later. That timeline, like pretty much all timelines associated with the site, proved optimistic. The date was moved to 2012. Now, thanks to a longstanding funding dispute that boiled over in the weeks following the tenth anniversary of the attacks, no one knows quite when it will open. But they're pretty confident in won't be this year.
On Thursday, Foye was asked if he had any idea when the museum might be completed.
“Not on the record, no,” he said.
The opaque dispute pitting the National September 11 Memorial & Museum Foundation, chaired by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, controlled by Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, is rooted in an agreement between the two parties hammered out in 2006, half a decade after the terrorist attacks permanently scarred New York City and send the nation to war. The redevelopment of the World Trade Center site remained a stalled-out morass of bureaucratic inefficacy, not to mention an international embarrassment. That year, the Port Authority and the Museum drafted an agreement according to which the Port would take over construction of the memorial plaza and museum.
According to the press release issued by the Port the time, “costs of construction will be provided through the Foundation, and the Port Authority will provide the infrastructure costs.”
The memorial and museum ended up costing a good deal more than originally predicted, and thanks in part to the vagueness of that agreement—including the ambiguity inherent to differentiating between “construction” and “infrastructure,” and the question of whether the authority had agreed to a scope of work, or merely to a certain dollar amount of work—the two sides have differed since 2009 over who should foot the bill. The authority believes the museum owes it at least $156 million in construction costs for infrastructure, including its share of the electrical grid and chilling plant. The museum believes it's owed a completed memorial, and counters that the city owes it a similar amount for construction delays. For the sake of expedience and getting the memorial and museum done on time, they agreed to sort it out later.
In late 2011, the Port Authority's former executive director Ward, who never had much political clout with Cuomo, was on the way out, and the governor’s appointee to replace him, Pat Foye, was just getting his bearings. Cuomo had by that point made clear that he had no problem angering the mayor, and in the accompanying transition period, Port chairman David Samson and board member Tony Sartor, the force behind the 2006 agreement, drew a figurative line in the sand, saying they would stop payments to contractors until the dispute was settled, according to a source familiar with the dispute. And so they did.