For many, two dollars might seem like a trifling amount — or at least nothing to argue over. But in the case of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center in New York City, it’s a different story.
The memorial foundation’s recent announcement that a temporary two-dollar service fee for visitors wishing to make their reservations in advance has caused something of an uproar, Politico reports.
Though continuing to charge such a fee with the goal of turning a significant profit would be wrong — not to mention an insult to the victims whose lives the memorial seeks to commemorate — the foundation should not be vilified for its attempt to keep the patriotic memorial operating until further funding arrives.
The memorial opened in 2011 and has since drawn more than seven million visitors seeking to pay tribute to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., as well as to the six individuals who died in the World Trade Center bombing of 1993.
Since its creation, the foundation in charge of the memorial and upcoming museum at the World Trade Center site has raked in more than $430 million in private donations, according to The New York Post. Additionally, about $295 million in taxpayer-funded grants received from 2006 to 2011 were applied to cover construction costs, according to the Post.
However, the museum that was meant to be a supplement to the memorial failed to open on time because of a funding fight between the foundation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the 16-acre site that houses the memorial. This fight has purportedly interfered with the foundation’s financial planning, necessitating the controversial service fee, according to Politico.
Additionally, the foundation has stated that operating the memorial and museum will cost at least $60 million annually. Security will require an estimated $12 million, while an extra $5 million will go just toward operating the waterfall tributes there, according to the Post.
Despite the clearly high costs of constructing, operating and maintaining a safe and beautiful memorial space for honoring victims, people have expressed outrage over what they see as greedy, unpatriotic executives capitalizing on the unspeakable tragedy of 9/11.
Said one mother of a victim to the Post: “I don’t want the American public to have to pay a dime to pay respects to my son.”
And Jim Riches, a retired FDNY deputy chief and father of a fallen fireman at the World Trade Center in 2001, stated that the memorial should be free and that “you wouldn’t charge money to get into a cemetery.”
Riches is mostly correct in saying this, but the 9/11 memorial is obviously not the same as a normal cemetery. One only needs to gaze at the two giant waterfalls and reflecting pools measuring about an acre each, with the names of the victims inscribed in beautiful bronze.
It is understandable that people would consider the memorial foundation’s newly imposed charges to be a callous attempt to extract profit from tragedy, and any future charges should be heavily scrutinized. A foundation running such a significant memorial dedicated to the fallen victims of unspeakable terror should never use these national tragedies for financial gain, or for anything other than honoring and perpetuating the memory of those taken from us too soon by cowardly acts of violence.
At the same time, however, just because the memorial exists does not mean that it will always be able to run smoothly without any funding from the multitudes of visitors that will continue to visit in the years ahead.
Ultimately, a temporary two-dollar service fee is a small price to pay for such a beautiful public display of honor and remembrance for those who died.
Sarah Cueva is a junior majoring in Middle East studies and political science. Her column “Homeland” runs Wednesdays.