9/11 Memorial Sets $24 Ticket Price

The Wall Street Journal - January 24, 2014

by Jennifer Maloney

The National September 11 Memorial Museum will charge general admission of $24 when it opens in mid-May, the memorial's board of trustees decided Thursday.

The ticket price was approved as part of a $63 million operating budget and financial plan to keep the memorial and museum running in the absence of government support, as the memorial prepares a renewed push for funding from Congress. Relatives of Sept. 11 victims will always be granted free admission, and the museum will be open free to the public for three hours every Tuesday evening, said Joe Daniels, the memorial's president. He added that discounts would be offered for students, seniors, recovery workers and first responders.

"We feel very good about our operating model going forward," Mr. Daniels said. "As much as we believe that the federal government should play a role in supporting this project, it would be irresponsible for us to count on that."

Jim Riches, a retired deputy fire chief who lost his son on Sept. 11, called the ticket price "disgraceful." He argued that the federal government should fully fund the memorial, allowing for free admission. "Middle-class families can't afford $100 to go to the museum," he said.

Monica Iken, who lost her husband in the attacks and serves on the memorial's board, said that in the absence of government support, charging $24 is "very reasonable."

"To be honest, it's worth the admission," she said, noting that the board could reconsider the ticket price if Congress approves funding.

The museum's opening will bump the foundation's annual operating costs to $63 million from $41 million in fiscal-year 2013. Under the plan adopted Thursday, the memorial foundation expects to cover nearly two-thirds of its operating costs through museum tickets, concessions and gift-shop sales. Mr. Daniels said the foundation will cover the remainder with annual fundraising.

The memorial does not have an endowment, and its efforts to secure funding from Congress and New York City so far have been unsuccessful. Mr. Daniels said he hopes to launch an endowment campaign sometime after the museum opens.

When the memorial's board last spring decided to consider a museum admission price of between $20 and $25, some people objected, saying the museum should be free.

Mr. Daniels said charging admission was the "prudent thing to do." He noted that other New York museums charge admission in the same range but have the advantage of government funding or endowment income—while the 9/11 memorial does not.

"We need to make sure the memorial and museum stay open forever," he said. "Visitors come here and have this very special experience. They are willing to pay for it."

Some 5.3 million people visited the memorial plaza last year. Officials expect 2.5 million people to visit the museum each year.

Museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, which allow visitors to pay what they wish, occupy city-owned buildings and receive significant operating support from the city. The Museum of Modern Art charges $25. It receives no government funding but, like the Met and the natural history museum, its operating budget is supported by a sizable endowment.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the memorial foundation planned to ask Mayor Bill de Blasio to subsidize the memorial's operations. A new city subsidy would reverse a decision made by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who felt that because the terrorist attacks were a national event, Congress—and not the city—should help fund the memorial. Mr. Bloomberg has been chairman of the memorial foundation since 2006.

Mr. de Blasio, asked about the planned appeal, said the memorial "is extraordinarily important all of us," but added that "the federal government needs to play a role here."

In 2011, the memorial asked for $20 million in annual federal funding in a bill sponsored by the late Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. That effort was blocked by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, who argued for equivalent cuts in the federal budget and asked whether the city and state had committed funds.

Mr. Daniels said the foundation still plans to seek city, state and federal funding but will focus first on Congress. The offices of Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer have been crafting language for a revised funding bill. With the memorial's newly approved operating budget in hand, they can now finalize their pitch, Mr. Daniels said.

Among other things, the foundation will seek a federal subsidy for security costs, which total between $10 million and $12 million a year, Mr. Daniels said.

"We think that the security here, that's appropriate for the government to help out with," he said. "This is a place that was attacked twice."

The 9/11 museum ticket sales are expected to replace what has until now been the memorial's biggest revenue stream: donations and transaction fees collected when visitors book timed tickets for the memorial plaza.

Around the time of the museum's opening, or shortly after, memorial officials expect the construction fences around the memorial plaza to come down. The removal of the fences will mean that timed tickets will no longer be necessary. Visitors will be able to wander freely onto the plaza from the surrounding sidewalks.

Advance ticket sales for the museum are expected to start in late March, Mr. Daniels said.