New York's Sept. 11 Memorial Slow To Rise

A memorial service will be held Thursday in New York City for those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks. But the ceremony won't take place at ground zero. That site is in the midst of construction, and after seven years, the lack of progress is frustrating to many.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. This morning, family members of those killed in the 9/11 attacks will hear the names of the dead read out in lower Manhattan. The ceremony is being held in a park adjacent to Ground Zero.

There's no memorial on the sites. We're hearing this morning there is one in Boston, something in Shanksville, and a permanent memorial opening at the Pentagon - but not at Ground Zero.

The ground is a mess of construction equipment and cranes. Seven years after the attacks, the lack of visible progress seems to frustrate many who visit it. NPR's Robert Smith reports.

ROBERT SMITH: Pete Watt(ph) traveled all the way from Manchester, England, to get a good look at Ground Zero, and here's what he sees: A giant fence, green construction netting and a sign that says sidewalk closed.

Mr. PETE WATT: It's a massive empty space in the middle of a lot of skyscrapers, and it just feels hollow. I would've thought there'd be something more here by now. You know, there's all these plans to rebuild on it, and looking around, there's still nothing here.

SMITH: Like many tourists, you're searching for a place to take a picture, but there's nothing to take a picture of.

Mr. WATT: No. It's just really surreal.

SMITH: You hear that a lot down at Ground Zero. People strain their necks to try and see over the fences. They creep around the site to try and get a better view into the pit. Harry John Roland(ph) comes down here every day as a freelance tour guide. He points out where all the future buildings and the memorial and the museum will stand.

Mr. HARRY JOHN ROLAND (Freelance Tour Guide, New York): It makes me sad to have people not knowing.

SMITH: Now the tourists who are going to come here today on September 11th will look at this and will say it looks like there's been no progress. It's just a big hole in the ground.

Mr. ROLAND: Exactly, because they don't know what they're looking at. They need to understand that what they're looking at is work under progress for a reason.

SMITH: As Roland likes to point out, this site has to accommodate four skyscrapers, a train station and an underground museum. The foundation work has been tricky, and most of the progress has been subterranean. But still, the engineering challenge has been nothing compared to the bureaucratic hurdles.

There's been infighting between different agencies responsible for the site, cost overruns and delays.

Down the street from Ground Zero, family members of those killed in the attacks met yesterday to talk about what progress has been made. The Voices of September 11th event included detailed presentations on the memorial and the museum planned for the site. Dick Caproni(ph), whose son Richard died at the World Trade Center, said the plans are impressive, but he worries that he might not be around to see it.

Mr. DICK CAPRONI: We're not getting any younger, and we're concerned about that. We hope that they can get through all the red tape and put their political differences aside and set a priority to get that done. It's important.

SMITH: The planners of the September 11th memorial seem eager to show at least some progress before the seventh anniversary, so they installed the first beams for the memorial in a ceremony last week. And today in Lower Manhattan, they're inviting the public to sign more of these giant steel beams before they go into the ground.

I met Devon Hurdle(ph) from Queens, who had just finished scrawling on it with a Sharpie pen.

Mr. DEVON HURDLE: I said love to everyone who's been through this tragic day, and we will get through this together. And I put love and then my first name, (unintelligible), last name.

I wasn't here on that day, but I'll tell you one thing. I really do feel for all those people who lost somebody and everybody who lost a friend or relative.

SMITH: The plan is for the memorial to be finished by the 10th anniversary of the attacks in 2011. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday that that deadline needs to be absolute: no more excuses, no more delays. Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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