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Sept. 11 museum opening delayed by dispute between gov., mayor

NEW YORK — A dispute between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the $1 billion museum at ground zero has dragged on for so long that the museum will not open in time for the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks — or even for the next anniversary.

Aides to Bloomberg and Cuomo have so far been unable to resolve their differences over which government agencies will pay operating costs for the museum, which is intended to document the terrorist attacks of 2001 and honor nearly 3,000 victims. The two sides also remain at odds over who will oversee the museum and the surrounding memorial.

The negotiations are further complicated because Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey must sign off on any agreement before it can take effect. Cuomo and Christie control the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the World Trade Center site. Bloomberg is chairman of the Sept. 11 foundation, which controls the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, and oversees commemorative events at the site.

With work on the museum at a standstill for nearly a year, fundraising and donations have fallen, and exhibits are gathering dust at fabrication shops in Buffalo, N.Y., and Santa Fe, N.M., according to museum executives.

The delay means that the museum may not open before construction on 1 World Trade Center is finished in early 2014.

Aides to Bloomberg and Cuomo said they hoped that the 11th anniversary might create pressure for a last-minute deal. Late last week, the two sides began circulating proposals to resolve the impasse.

Still, earlier agreements have fallen apart.

"It would be catastrophically sad if they can't find a solution," said Ira Millstein, a board member of the Sept. 11 foundation and a prominent commercial lawyer. "They really ought to sit down in a room and look at each other. It can't be solved with emails."

Other board members, whose relatives died in the attacks, said they would hold a demonstration today if officials did not break the deadlock.

Bloomberg and Cuomo tried to bridge their differences last month when they agreed to start an advisory committee to settle their disputes. But then a new argument erupted over how much money the foundation would contribute to the museum's operating costs, and the advisory committee plan has not moved forward.

Last week, in a break with custom, Cuomo and Christie did not attend the foundation's annual fundraising dinner at Cipriani Wall Street, where comedian Stephen Colbert was the host.

Port Authority officials bought a table for the event but hesitated to attend because they were concerned about their reception by foundation executives, given the looming anniversary and negotiation tensions, according to authority and foundation officials. Ultimately, at least two midlevel Port Authority executives attended.

The first hint of tensions occurred after the 10th anniversary commemoration, when reports surfaced that Cuomo and Christie were annoyed at Bloomberg and the foundation over restricting access to the memorial and the ceremony. Those reports were later denied by aides to both governors.

The dispute entered a new stage in June with a struggle over who would control the memorial. The conflict over what many New Yorkers regard as a hallowed site carries political risks.

Bloomberg has raised tens of millions of dollars for the museum and has contributed $15 million of his own money, but he may leave office at the end of 2013 with a legacy project in disarray. And Cuomo may be blamed for the standstill as talk of political dysfunction and a failed museum dominates media coverage of the 11th anniversary.

The foundation, which has collected $450 million in private donations, estimates that it will take another year of construction work to complete the museum and two or three more months to install exhibits and prepare for an opening.

Asked to explain the reasons for the impasse, Bloomberg's aides would say only that negotiations were continuing.

"The delay is hugely disappointing to family members of victims and the many stakeholders who have worked hard to curate the museum," said Julie Wood, a Bloomberg spokeswoman. "But we are confident that the finished product will be the definitive historical accounting of that terrible day."

Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for Cuomo, said, "They are working through complex financial and economic issues, but we are cautiously optimistic" about an agreement.

Sept. 11 museum opening delayed by dispute between gov., mayor 09/09/12 [Last modified: Monday, September 10, 2012 12:06am]
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