By Judy L. Randall Staten Island Advance
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A leading advocate for 9/11 families is objecting to placement of the New York Wheel on the St. George waterfront, saying it will overshadow the Staten Island September 11 memorial “Postcards,” which pays tribute to the 274 Islanders who were killed in the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“It’s irresponsible,” said Dennis McKeon, founder of Where-To-Turn, which was born of the tragedy.
“It’s inappropriate that we will have this massive amusement park right on top of Postcards. This was meant to be a very personal place, with a direct view of where the Twin Towers were.”
Borough President James Molinaro called McKeon’s criticism “absolutely wrong” and said no one has voiced an objection until now.
“If I had felt it was in any way disrespectful, I would have done something about it,” said Molinaro, who was instrumental in bringing Postcards to fruition and has been a driving force behind the Wheel.
And Wheel CEO Richard Marin maintains that the “solemnity” of Postcards will be preserved.
“We designed our beautiful plaza and entry to cut a wide berth so that we are not crowding it, so that it is honored and stays in a sacrosanct manner,” said Marin.
But renderings of the site show the Wheel situated yards away from Postcards, bracketed by the Richmond County Bank Ballpark.
Frank Siller, who chairs the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a tribute to the bravery of his firefighter brother Stephen, said he has been weighing the pros and cons.
Siller said he visits Postcards “multiple times a year,” smokes a cigar there, reflects and remembers.
“It is such a peaceful place,” said Siller, “and part of that may be lost. It may be a little noisy. We will lose some of the tranquility. But more people will see it, and see the price that was paid.”
Developers note on the New York Wheel website that the main entry to the Wheel will be on Bank Street facing the waterfront, and that the “entry plaza will be directly across from and positioned to honor, but not interfere with the Postcards 9/11 Memorial.”
Said Siller: “I’ve thought about it, that maybe it is disrespectful. But then I think oh, my goodness, a lot of people will visit the site and are going to see the sacrifice we had from Staten Island and how much loss we had. People will pay their respects. As long as they are respectful. Safeguards have to be put in place to make sure the ground is revered. You can’t have people using it as a pathway to the Wheel. It has to be treated respectfully.”
McKeon said he fears “the Wheel will turn Postcards into a tourist attraction like Ground Zero, and that is not what we want.”
He also wondered about future annual 9/11 commemorations on the site.
“Are they going to stop the Wheel for the ceremony?” wondered McKeon.
Marin suggested that “pausing the wheel for a moment of reflection” could be an option.
“I am open to discussing it,” added Marin. “I am glad to talk about anything having to do with it. In the two and a half years I have been doing this, no one has reached out to me on this, from a design standpoint or an operational standpoint.”
Both Marin and Molinaro said increased visitors to the memorial would be a net positive.
“In general, it would be a good thing, not a bad thing,” said Marin.
Added Molinaro: “If there is a ballgame 37 times a year, is that disrespectful? They have fireworks twice a week after the games, is that disrespectful? You have children riding skateboards there, is that disrespectful? During my testimony in favor [before the city Planning Commission], I thanked them [Wheel developers] for taking the memorial into account.”
“Of course he [Molinaro] will defend it,” said McKeon. “I understand the economics involved. I don’t know what a solution is, but I don’t think enough consideration was given.”