NEW YORK – The Sept. 11 memorial plaza will be open on the night of the attacks' anniversary this year, the first time the general public will be able to visit ground zero on the commemoration date.
The plaza will be closed to the public during the remembrance ceremony and much of the rest of the day, but it will open from 6 p.m. to midnight for those who want to pay respects and view one of the most evocative observances — the twin beams called the Tribute in Light — from an especially "meaningful vantage point," memorial President Joe Daniels said in an email Thursday to victims' families.
A symbolic shift for a site that was inaccessible to the public for years after the attacks, the plan reflects its increasing openness as more gets rebuilt.
The memorial plaza, with its massive reflecting pools etched with the names of the dead, opened in 2011. But to control crowds amid construction elsewhere on the World Trade Center property, tickets and security screening were required until this spring. Since the ticketed, underground memorial museum opened in May, open access has been allowed during days and evenings at the plaza, which joins the streetscape of lower Manhattan even as it serves as a place of remembrance protected by police and security guards. Museum officials said that security measures would be in place for the public hours on Sept. 11 but that they couldn't disclose details.
The night hours on Sept. 11 will provide visitors a solemn setting for looking at the Tribute in Light, which first appeared on March 11, 2002, to mark the six months that had passed since the attacks. It has become a moving, quietly powerful element of the anniversaries since.
It shines from a roof near the trade center, traditionally from sunset to dawn. Formed from 88 powerful bulbs positioned into two squares that echo the fallen Twin Towers, the light memorial reaches four miles skyward, according to the Municipal Art Society, a nonprofit group that orchestrates the $500,000-a-year project.
The museum will be closed to the public throughout the day.
The private anniversary ceremony will be held on the plaza in the morning, a tribute that has centered on reading of the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in New York, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in the 2001 attacks, as well as recognizing the six people killed in the 1993 trade center bombing.
"Of course, remembering those we lost is something we do each and every day," Daniels noted in his message Thursday.
Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.