LOWER MANHATTAN — The highly anticipated 9/11 Memorial Museum hosted a preview Monday for victims' families and first responders of an exhibit commemorating the lives of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But the event for "In Memoriam," held at the New York Marriott Downtown a day before the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was overshadowed by a dispute over how to pay for the museum and who will run it — which has delayed construction and significantly pushed back the museum's opening date.
It was revealed later in the day that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo reached a deal to restart construction on the museum this fall. But even then neither side could give a projected opening date for the long-anticipated exhibits.
“While it is disappointing that construction has stalled on the museum itself, rest assured that the development of all the museum’s exhibitions moves forward, albeit offsite,” said Joe Daniels, president of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, before the deal was announced.
As of last year, officials planned to open the underground museum to the public on Sept. 11, 2012, with exhibits including a crushed fire truck and multimedia profiles of the victims.
But work on the project halted last fall, as the memorial foundation battled with the Port Authority over who should pay for millions of dollars in construction cost overruns.
The disagreement pitted Bloomberg, the memorial foundation's chairman, against Cuomo, who controls the Port Authority. The dispute grew into a larger fight over who will control the memorial and museum in the future and who will be responsible for the institution's annual operating costs.
Despite Monday evening's deal, it remained uncertain whether the museum will be ready by the 12th anniversary of the attacks in 2013. The agreement does not set a new anticipated completion date.
"I don’t have a crystal ball other than to say that each and every principal, whether it’s Gov. Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, myself, the city, or the state, recognize the importance of it happening, recognize the importance of getting it done," Daniels said, "and that leads me to believe that it will get done."
Bloomberg said Monday morning — at an unrelated press event on the Upper East Side where he was mum that a deal was even in the works — that museum trustees have raised $450 million, noting that they "have fulfilled every single obligation right down to the last penny.”
Even if construction were to begin immediately, it is unlikely the project could be completed by Sept. 11, 2013.
Geraldine Halderman, who lost her son on 9/11, was disappointed to hear such a vague timeline for finishing the memorial on Tuesday.
“It’s just embarrassing,” said Halderman, 78, of Long Island, whose son, David Halderman, was a firefighter in the West Village's Squad 18. “They build stadiums in less time. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
Still, Geraldine Halderman said she was impressed with what she saw at the museum's exhibit preview on Monday: interactive touch screen displays where visitors could pull up one of 2,962 portraits and 2,983 mini biographies of people who were killed on 9/11 and in the World Trade Center bombing on Feb. 26, 1993. Visitors will also be able to scan through an assortment of photos submitted by loved ones — pictures of weddings, birthdays and childhood memories.
Halderman was pleased to learn that an audiotape about her son that she and her daughter, Marianne Halderman, 53, of Long Island, made for StoryCorps in 2004 — an oral history project which works with the 9/11 Museum — would eventually make its way to the museum.
“It’s good that other people can come and they’ll be able to have that piece of him,” Geraldine Halderman said. “It’s just too bad that it’s taking this long.”
The museum was invited by Voices of September 11th, a group providing support services for 9/11 families and rescue workers, to preview the exhibition and share news about its progress as part of the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
With reporting by Jill Colvin.