. . . And Rethinking the Memorial

March 31, 2006—To the extent that developer Silverstein's financial participation—or lack thereof—in the $500 million Ground Zero memorial is preventing agreement on the larger rebuilding process, let us propose a heresy: Why not build a less grandiose memorial?

There can be majesty in simplicity, to which anyone who has ever visited the starkly powerful Vietnam Memorial—the Wall—can testify.

The rebuilt Ground Zero would be much the better for it if something similar were substituted for the overly complex, grotesquely expensive edifice now planned for the site.

Now, it's not necessary to take Corzine's stated objections entirely at face value to wonder why the $100 million he says he's seeking from Silverstein shouldn't be enough—in and of itsellf—to get the job done.

Silverstein's cash aside, the memorial planners aren't even close to raising enough money to complete their project. And there's no real reason to believe they ever will be.

Indeed, officials now say they'll be collecting entrance fees to the memorial museum. Tuesday, Gretchen Dykstra, the Memorial Foundation's president, vowed to "argue strenuously that we charge admission to get into the museum" when her board takes up the matter.

Family members and first-responders would be free, she said. And there'd be no charge at the memorial itself.

For now, she might have added.

Who should be surprised? The memorial and museum are to be so elaborate and expensive that common sense says entrance fees will be needed just to keep the doors open.

How expensive?

The official pricetag exceeds $500 million. But just last month, Mayor Bloomberg said the final figure would more likely approach twice that—$1 billion, or more than enough to build 100 Vietnam memorials, and have enough cash left to fund a healthy operating endowment.

Knowing New York, and the Port Authority in particular, even the mayor's estimate may be conservative.

Here's a better idea, respectfully submitted: Downsize the memorial, before it's too late.

Some people refuse to accept even the present undertaking, and their views are worthy of respect.

But surely enough time has passed since 9/11 to permit a discussion about a more reasonable memorial.

There clearly isn't enough money to build and operate what has been proposed—barely $300 million is in hand, fund-raising has stalled and Bloomberg's cost-overrun estimate looms.

Money aside, wouldn't it simply be better to turn to a smaller, less confusing, more dignified monument that recalls what happened on that terrible day, pays appropriate respect to those who perished—but looks to the future with optimism and resolve?

Something that could actually be built?