NEW YORK – Bowing to pressure from Sept. 11 families, Gov. George Pataki on Wednesday removed a proposed freedom center from the space reserved for it near the planned World Trade Center memorial, saying the museum project had aroused "too much opposition, too much controversy."
Pataki initially said the state would help the International Freedom Center (search) find another home, but center officials said they weren't interested and considered the project dead.
Pataki said a planned cultural building meant for the freedom center would now tell only the story of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (search), created by Pataki and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (search) to rebuild the trade center site, will work on Sept. 11-related content for the building, LMDC spokesman John Gallagher said.
The decision followed months of acrimony, with some Sept. 11 families and politicians saying the freedom center would overshadow and take space from the separate memorial devoted to the 2,749 World Trade Center dead and would dishonor them by fostering debate about the attacks and other world events.
"Freedom should unify us. This center has not," Pataki said. "Today there remains too much opposition, too much controversy over the programming of the IFC. ... We must move forward with our first priority, the creation of an inspiring memorial to pay tribute to our lost loved ones and tell their stories to the world."
International Freedom Center officials said in a statement that they did not believe there was a viable location for their museum elsewhere at the site.
"We consider our work, therefore, to have been brought to an end," they said.
The campaign by Sept. 11 families to oust the freedom center had grown to include four police and fire unions, an online petition with more than 40,000 signatures, and several politicians including Giuliani and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search).
"Goodbye and good riddance," said Rep. Vito Fossella (search), one of three congressmen who had threatened hearings on federal funding if the freedom center stayed where it was. "The IFC will not stand on the hallowed grounds of the World Trade Center site."
The IFC proposed a museum that celebrated American ideals of freedom and tolerance, with exhibits on such leaders as Abraham Lincoln (search) and Martin Luther King Jr. (search), as well as documents like the Declaration of Independence and the South African constitution.
The museum was also to have a section on the world's response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Some families opposed the museum as much for its location as its content; they said it would sit in a prominent location that would obscure the memorial.
"I am so happy," said Jack Lynch, a member of the families' coalition. "Don't get me wrong. I think the concept of the Freedom Center is wonderful, but it's in the wrong location."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg (search), who gave conflicting statements in recent days about the museum's future, said Wednesday: "Although I understand Governor Pataki's decision, I am disappointed that we were not able to find a way to reconcile the freedoms we hold so dear with the sanctity of the site."
While most families who expressed opinions were against the freedom center, a few supported it, including the proposed museum's vice chairman, Paula Grant Berry (search), whose husband died at the trade center.
Rebuilders are planning a memorial that would sit 60 feet below street level, near the bedrock foundations of the trade center. Plans for the rest of the 16-acre site include five office towers.