A union representing 22,000 active and retired firefighters announced Tuesday it has withdrawn its support for the foundation overseeing development of a memorial and other structures at the World Trade Center (search) site.
Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association (search), cited objections to the planned International Freedom Center (search) and a Drawing Center, which detractors say could include anti-American exhibits and draw attention from a planned memorial museum.
Cassidy said in a statement that his "membership and our 9/11 (search) families believe that the memorial design will take away from the memory and sacrifice of the firefighters who bravely gave their lives during the most horrific terrorist attacks our country has had to face."
The Freedom Center and the Drawing Center are parts of cultural space long planned at ground zero. But in recent months family members have waged a campaign to remove the two institutions from the site.
The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation (search) is charged with overseeing development of a memorial at the World Trade site as well as cultural space set aside for the two museums, two theater companies and a performing arts complex.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. oversees rebuilding of the entire 16-acre site, including a planned 1,776-foot tall Freedom Tower (search) office building.
The memorial, called "Reflecting Absence," will include a field of trees and two large voids containing recessed pools. The pools and the ramps that surround them encompass the footprints of the twin towers. A cascade of water will feed the pools continuously.
Last week, John Whitehead — chairman of the LMDC's board of directors and a foundation board member — gave the International Freedom Center until Sept. 23 to work with family members and produce more specific plans and warned if the plans do not satisfy the rebuilding agency, "we will find another use or tenant consistent with our objectives for that space."
The Drawing Center is looking for a new home following the controversy.
Cassidy was adamant in calling the plans to house the Freedom and Drawing centers "unacceptable."
"This was the largest civilian rescue operation of its kind, and its victims must be at the forefront of whatever memorial is cast and not forced to play third fiddle," he said.
A spokeswoman said the foundation was "deeply saddened" by the union's decision. "We hope that the LMDC will work with the cultural institutions and the family members to resolve the concerns at the site," Lynn Rasic said.
The chairman and the vice chair of the International Freedom Center, Tom Bernstein and Paula Berry, said Tuesday they looked forward to meeting with the union officials to share their plans.
They said they were creating a family advisory council to ensure that everything at the International Freedom Center "is done with the greatest sensitivity and respect for the sacrifice so many heroes, both in and out of uniform, made that day."