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Ground Zero 'freedom center' quashed

Plan drew opposition from 9/11 victims' family members

From Phil Hirschkorn

The memorial will include two reflecting pools where the towers once stood, amid a 6-acre plaza.


Manhattan (New York)
September 11 attacks
Daniel Libeskind

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A controversial proposal for an International Freedom Center adjacent to the planned memorial at the World Trade Center site has been abandoned.

New York Gov. George Pataki on Wednesday announced the change of plans he once championed.

"There remains too much opposition, too much controversy over the programming of the IFC and we must move forward with our first priority -- the creation of an inspiring memorial to pay tribute to our lost loved ones and tell their stories to the world," Pataki said in a written statement.

A growing chorus of September 11 victims' family members had objected to proposed exhibits that would cover subjects in American history unrelated to the 2001 terrorists attack. Some also objected to the center occupying an eight-story cultural center in the southwest quadrant of the 16-acre site where the memorial will be centered.

"Therefore, the IFC cannot be located on the memorial quadrant," Pataki said.

Pataki said he wanted the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the city-state agency overseeing rebuilding on the site, to explore other locations for the center.

But the center immediately issued a statement saying it did not see "a viable alternative place."

"We consider our work, therefore, to have been brought to an end," said the center's chief operating officer, Richard Tofel.

The center was proposed to be a museum featuring exhibits on the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, but also on American values -- from the Revolution to the civil rights movement.

Hundreds of September 11 families protested the plan in recent weeks, staging demonstrations at Ground Zero to "take back the memorial" and circulating petitions. They contended the freedom center would detract from the necessary, singular focus on the terrorist attacks that toppled the Twin Towers and claimed 2,749 lives in Lower Manhattan.

Debra Burlingame, a World Trade Center Memorial Foundation board member whose brother was a pilot on the plane that al Qaeda hijackers crashed into the Pentagon on the same day, helped lead the protests and applauded the decision.

"The terrorists who killed our loved ones are the ones who turned it into a cemetery. We want to turn it into a incredible memorial," Burlingame said. "That story will be a story of loss and inspiration. Now it will be undiluted without distraction."

Pataki and freedom center supporters had argued that al Qaeda attacked the United States because of its freedoms of religion and speech, its tradition of democracy and support for human rights.

"The celebration of freedom is not inconsistent with the goals of memorializing our nearly 3,000 lost heroes," Pataki said. "The creation of an institution that would show the world our unity and our resolve to preserve freedom in the wake of the horrific attacks is a noble pursuit.

"But freedom should unify us. This center has not," he said.

The freedom center was the most controversial of four cultural institutions chosen to occupy space on the site. The others were the Joyce International Dance Theater, the Signature Theater Company and the fine arts Drawing Center. The Drawing Center recently withdrew from the plan.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has advocated the integration of cultural institutions into the site, said, "Although I understand Governor Pataki's decision, I am disappointed that we were not able to find a way to reconcile the freedoms we hold so dear with the sanctity of the site."

Tofel said in his statement that freedom center organizers were "deeply disappointed" that it could not be "at this hallowed site."

"We are profoundly sorry to see this significant blow to the idea of a living memorial that emerged from a comprehensive public process" and to see "the loss of a museum of freedom at the place where freedom was so brutally challenged."

Organizers worked four years on the project.

"Freedom is humankind's greatest, most ennobling idea, and its surest antidote to terror and tyranny," Tofel said.

The cultural building is in architect Daniel Libeskind's master plan for redeveloping the trade center site. Plans going forward include a 1,776-foot-tall Freedom Tower and a massive train station.

The fate of the building commissioned to house cultural institutions, designed by the Norwegian-based firm Snohetta, is unclear. Some September 11 families are eyeing it for a 9/11 museum currently planned for a proposed 100,000-square-foot museum that would be underground.

The memorial features two reflecting pools where the towers once stood, amid a 6-acre plaza.

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