The Port Authority budges, and a deal to restart construction at the September 11 Memorial may be near

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Sept. 11 Museum and Memorial, still not open. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Though the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Bloomberg administration have yet to reach an agreement over some $150 million in cost overruns at the September 11 Memorial and Museum, the authority has restarted payments to museum contractors, indicating that an agreement is near.

Yesterday, Crain’s New York reported: 

Payments were slated to go out Thursday to subcontractors who were stiffed while working on the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum. The money is part of a pending deal to resume construction on the property, which now has a target completion date of June or July 2013.

Ron Berger, executive director of the Subcontractors Trade Association, said officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey told him they will shell out a total of $15 million starting Thursday. However, he said, work won't resume immediately because the construction schedule needs to be changed to meet the revised completion date.

A source familiar with the negotiations told Capital that when a deal is finalized, contractors will be expected to go back to work immediately to meet a new construction deadline, a date that is still being discussed. In order for construction to restart on a dime, the contractors are going to have to be made whole sooner rather than later. (Unhappy contractors don't make for eager workers.)

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Staff from the Port Authority and the mayor's office have been going back and forth in an effort to resolve this dispute and a separate dispute over security hardware, which has been folded into the same negotiations.

Patrick Foye, the authority's executive director, and Robert Steel, the mayor's deputy mayor for economic development, speak regularly.

The very fact that these discussions are necessary dates back to late last year, when the Port Authority, under the new joint control of Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, brought a longstanding disagreement with the September 11 Memorial Museum foundation, which is chaired by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to a head. Indignant over cost overruns at the museum construction site, the bistate agency stopped payments to subcontractors. Then they stopped working. And the unfinished museum, which sits at the symbolic heart of the World Trade Center redevelopment site, just sat there. 

It was an impolitic move, incensing, among others, the mayor, who'd wanted to see the museum open by the 11th anniversary of the attacks, and the New York Post, which warned that Cuomo's stewardship seemed to be sending the site back to days of George Pataki, when progress was lost in a morass of competing interests.

Now, the authority seems to be giving up its main point of leverage in its negotiations with the city over cost overruns at the museum site.

The Port Authority declined to respond to requests for comment, as did the museum. 

At a Staten Island press conference earlier this week, neither the mayor nor Foye had much to say on the matter.

“We're working as hard as we can," said Bloomberg. "And when we have something to say, you can rest assured you will be told the same time [as] everybody else."