'Freedom Centre' for Ground Zero site ditched after families protest

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The Independent US

By coming down on the side of a group of families of the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks which had vigorously campaigned against the proposed centre as being inappropriate for the site, Mr Pataki has once again thrown the whole process of rebuilding into turmoil and architectural uncertainty.

The IFC had been selected as the main tenant of a sleek new cultural building that was at the heart of the original blueprint for the site conceived by the acclaimed architect Daniel Libeskind. Bit by bit, Libeskind's vision for Ground Zero has been eroded by politics and emotional hand-wringing.

Mr Pataki said in a statement late on Wednesday: "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."

He suggested that the group that had worked for four years to establish the IFC begin looking for an alternative venue, but within minutes of the statement being released, the IFC declared itself out of business. Richard Tofel, the IFC's chief operating officer, said he could see no other location that would be suitable, and "our work, therefore, has been brought to an end".

The IFC was conceived as a space to host exhibits highlighting America's commitment to democracy and freedom. While the notion would seem to fit perfectly with the ideology of conquering terrorists, the planners imagined exploring not just the events of 9/11 but all relevant moments in American history, from the revolution to the civil rights movement.

That did not sit well with a vociferous group of families of victims, who argued that nothing should be installed at Ground Zero that did not solely focus on the terror attacks of four years ago and the taking of the lives of almost 3,000 people at the site.

It was led by Debra Burlingame, whose husband was a pilot in the jet that was crashed into the Pentagon. She wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal recently criticising the proposed IFC.

Part of the difficulty is that the cultural building is to sit in the south-west quadrant of the 16-acre Ground Zero site, within the footprint of the twin towers themselves. That, she says, is hallowed ground.

She issued her own statement welcoming Mr Pataki's ruling. "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," she said. "That story will be a story of loss and inspiration. Now it will be undiluted without distraction."

What happens next, however, is anyone's guess. In theory the cultural building itself, designed by the Norwegian architectural firm Snohetta, will still be built. It is slated to rise directly adjacent to the proposed 9/11 memorial, which consists of two square reflecting pools and a large underground museum. Some families would like to see the museum moved into the above-ground building.

Earlier this year, it emerged that the drawings for the most important of the area's new buildings, the 1,776ftFreedom Tower, were not sufficiently terror-proof. They had to be withdrawn. A new version was proposed, with a more strictly protected tower set further back from the passing roadways.

While ditching the IFC should bring another prickly controversy to an end, the uncertainty that it causes will hardly reflect well on either Mr Pataki or New York's Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. The latter had championed the notion of integrating memorialising the victims with celebrating culture on the site.

"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," Mr Bloomberg said.