NEW YORK (MCT) – When the 9/11 Memorial Museum opens in mid-May, it will have shards of the fallen World Trade Center towers. It will have walls covered with portraits of the nearly 3,000 victims, and the watch worn by Todd Beamer when he declared, "Let's roll," and helped launch an attack on the Flight 93 hijackers.
It will have a burned-out ambulance that raced to save people, and helmets of firefighters who battled dust and flames to reach those trapped in the ruins.
It will also have a $24 admission fee, which directors say is needed to maintain the site, a cost that critics say undercuts the idea of ensuring that all the world can visit and learn from the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.
In a city where people shell out more than $100 for tickets to "The Lion King," where the Bronx Zoo charges about $20 a head, and where the Metropolitan Museum of Art's recommended donation is $25, the Sept. 11 museum's fee has touched a nerve like no other.
Even victims' survivors and first responders, who will get in free, are split on the issue, which was formally announced Friday as museum officials detailed artifacts that will be on display and defended the entrance fee.
"I'm 100 percent in favor of it," said Charles G. Wolf, whose wife, Katherine, was at work on the 97th floor of the north tower when American Airlines Flight 11 smashed into it. Katherine, 40, was killed.
To Wolf, the fee will ensure that the museum survives long after he is gone. "I want this museum to be here not just now, I want it to be here in 10, 20, 50, 100 years," he said. "I don't want the thing to open up and be great, and then fall apart because it lacks money."
On the opposite side are Sally Regenhard and retired Deputy Fire Chief Jim Riches, both of whom lost sons who were firefighters on Sept. 11.
In a statement this week, they called the planned fee "outrageous."
"It was created to tell the story of 9/11 to future generations about the worst day in American history," they said of the museum. "It was never intended to be a revenue-generating tourist attraction with a prohibitive budget and entrance fee."
The fee issue is the latest controversy facing the National September 11 Memorial & Museum nonprofit organization, which was created to oversee the museum and the adjoining, outdoor memorial. The memorial, which is free, opened to the public on schedule on Sept. 12, 2011. The museum had been expected to open a year later, but work stalled for months amid a dispute between the nonprofit group and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the land.
Work eventually resumed, but the delay put the project behind schedule. In addition to objecting to the fee, some victims' relatives also have complained about the museum's design and about the six-figure salaries paid to several of the organization's directors, blaming them for the need to charge an entrance fee.
Joe Daniels, president of the organization, said the board of directors had settled on the ticket price based on the 2014 budget of $63 million, an amount to be covered by visitor fees and donations. The organization does not get any federal funding, Daniels noted, a situation that local political leaders say needs to change.
"It was a national tragedy and people come from all over the nation, all over the world to see it," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "So, of course, the federal government should play a role." But efforts to get federal help have failed. Congress rejected legislation sponsored by Democratic lawmakers in 2012 that called for the government to provide $20 million of the annual operating costs.
Daniels said the lack of federal funding leaves the organization no option if it wants to provide security, maintain the site and ensure free admission for victims' relatives and rescue and recovery workers. Children under 5 also will get free admission, and there will be some group discounts. The public will be able to enter at no charge each Tuesday evening.
"I don't think it's too much. The site is going to be worth the expenditure," Daniels said of the ticket price. Among the museum's exhibits are 23,000 images; 10,300 artifacts such as pieces of jewelry, handwritten notes and employment IDs of victims; and nearly 2,000 oral histories of the dead provided by friends and loved ones.
The museum, like the memorial, will feature names of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001, and of the six who died Feb. 26, 1993, when bombers attacked the World Trade Center, for a total of 2,983.