City 9/11 memorial pushed – then pulled

By Stephan Salisbury Philadelphia Inquirer

An artist's rendering shows the proposed memorial. (Phila911 Inc.)

An artist’s rendering shows the proposed memorial. (Phila911 Inc.)

A proposal for a Franklin Square 9/11 memorial that was to go before the Philadelphia Art Commission for review and final approval Wednesday was withdrawn from consideration late Tuesday afternoon.

Featuring fragments from the World Trade Center, a block of granite from the Pentagon, and soil and stones from the Flight 93 crash site near Shanksville, Pa., the memorial first appeared on a revised commission agenda Monday.

The proposal had been backed by an array of powerful city political leaders, including U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and Mayor Nutter.

“We don’t know what’s going on,” said Steven R. Saymon, a leader of the group behind the memorial. He said city officials had knocked the proposal off the agenda, and added, “Something’s fishy here.”

Saymon referred inquiries to Everett A. Gillison, Nutter’s chief of staff and deputy mayor for public safety. Gillison could not be reached.

Gary Steuer, the city’s chief cultural officer, said the proposal was being “tweaked.”

“We’re confident that when it comes up before the Art Commission, it will be approved,” he said.

The memorial, dubbed “Mending Liberty” by its backers, features two nine-foot “towers” and a replica of the Liberty Bell with its crack “mended” with trade-center steel. The Department of Parks and Recreation has approved the concept and the site at the southeast corner of the square.

The memorial is the brainchild of Saymon, a retired police inspector from Brooklawn, CamdenCounty, who served as a first responder at the Trade Center for several days following the attack.

He has already worked successfully to erect a similar memorial in Brooklawn. But Saymon, 55, grew up in the Northeast and said he wants to “give back” to the city. He said a fellow memorial backer, the politically connected contractor Jeffrey Little, had worked out the design on a napkin while the pair sat in a restaurant over a year ago.

Many members of the city’s art and design community are not happy with the design or the site.

“I’ve seen the design and it’s incredibly crude,” said Mark Brack, associate professor of architecture and interiors at Drexel University. “This is going to be a laughingstock for the city.”

Nevertheless, the project has the backing of a host of politicians. Brady and Councilman Mark Squilla are trustees of Saymon’s nonprofit memorial group. Michael Walton, head of Nutter’s security detail, is an architectural and design consultant for the group. Little, Saymon’s partner, is a city Democratic ward leader.

Saymon said politicians “came to us. We never asked anyone.”

Was the mayor interested in getting the memorial in place, Mark Focht, head of Fairmount Park, was asked.

“Sure,” he replied. “It was clear the mayor was keen on having the memorial in the city. He was very supportive of this.”

That the city already has one 9/11 memorial – sited in the Schuylkill Banks park – was “discussed a lot” during the park’s review, Focht said.

The Mayor’s Public Art Advisory Committee also reviewed the proposal last week and found it seriously wanting. That committee, which has only an advisory role, suggested Saymon’s group “work with the city’s public art office to design a process or competition for the memorial.”

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