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Finances stall museum at ground zero, delay opening

Battle centers on who pays for infrastructure

- Associated Press - Thursday, December 29, 2011

NEW YORK Work on a planned museum at the World Trade Center has ground to a halt because of a financial dispute, and there is now no possibility it will open on time next year, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday.

The underground museum commemorating victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was scheduled to open in September on the 11th anniversary of the disaster, a year after the opening of a memorial at the site that has already drawn 1 million visitors.

But in recent months, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum foundation has been fighting with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey over who is responsible for paying millions of dollars in infrastructure costs related to the project.

The Port Authority, which owned the trade center and is building the museum, claims that the foundation owes it $300 million. The foundation claims that the authority actually owes it $140 million, because of delays in the project.

The dispute has been simmering for some time, and some details of the work slowdown were reported in November, but Thursday marked the first time that the mayor and other officials have acknowledged that the fight would mean the museum will not open in 2012.

"There is no chance of it being open on time. Work has basically stopped," Mr. Bloomberg said. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on a recent radio program that the Port Authority was "on the verge" of suing the foundation, but both the mayor and the Port Authority said Thursday that negotiations on the matter continue.

"I'm sure we are going to work something out with the Port Authority," Mr. Bloomberg said. "They've got a difficult budget situation."

Despite security hurdles and ongoing construction, tourists from around the world have made the memorial at the site a regular stop on their visits to New York City. Since it opened to the public Sept. 12, more than 1 million people have visited the memorial plaza, officials said.

The site now draws about 10,000 visitors a day, which would put it on pace to match or exceed the 3.5 million who visit the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building annually.

Tourists have long been a staple at ground zero, but until this summer the closest they could get were the high fences that ringed a bustling construction zone where the twin towers once stood.

Negotiating fences and legions of construction workers is still part of any trip to the memorial. All visitors must reserve free tickets in advance and pass through a security screening. But the hurdles haven't stopped people from coming. Memorial officials said visitors have hailed from all 50 states and 120 countries.

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