9/11 Memorial visitors pressured to make donations

By Susan Edelman and Kate Briquelet New York Post

The 9/11 Memorial is free, it seems, in name only.

Those waiting in line to visit the reflecting pools are told: “Please have your donations out and ready.” While a sign says a $5 to $10 donation per person is “suggested,” those who don’t hand over cash are pressured.

When two Post reporters showed up for tickets without offering money, workers standing behind Plexiglas boxes stuffed with bills pressed them.

“Would you like to leave any donation? Anything is appreciated,” one worker pleaded, palms up.

Another worker pushed, “We ask that you donate $5 to $10 but anything is appreciated. It’s just a donation.”

Nearly everyone did as told, pulling out their wallets.

A similar pitch greets those picking up reserved passes at a nearby site on Vesey Street.

The drive for donations is one way the massively over-budget memorial is shaking down visitors. There’s also a $2 fee to book tickets online, along with a click-button asking for more. Donation boxes stand at the exit and in the gift shop. Some tourists who gave by credit card have also gotten letters prodding them for more.

When the museum finally opens next year — no date has been set — a mandatory $20 to $25 admission fee will be charged.

Overall, the museum and memorial have cost more than $700 million, $300 million of it from taxpayers.

Bob Porch, a retired metal worker from New Jersey who volunteered in the search for survivors at Ground Zero, is appalled.

“They will embarrass you in front of everybody on line behind you if you don’t come up with any money,” he said. “My head almost fell off when I heard the guy say ‘Two? That’ll be $10.’”

Frank Evans, a retired Sacramento firefighter, said he donated $120 online with his credit card, besides paying $12 in fees for six tickets.

Two days before heading to New York, Evans said, he received a letter from the memorial asking for another donation — with a return envelope included.

“I thought it was kind of rude and lacked taste,” he said.

Some relatives of 9/11 victims are livid at the heavy-handed tactics.

“It’s a shakedown,” said Bill Doyle, a family advocate whose son Joey was one of 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees killed. “They’re making people feel guilty by memorializing those who lost their lives that day. They’re creating a cash cow.”

Sally Regenhard, whose rookie-firefighter son, Christian, perished, said, “They’re making money off the dead. My son is being used as a marketing tool.”

Memorial spokesman Michael Frazier would not say how much money has been raised since the pitches and fees ramped up. But the foundation can haul in $75,000 to $150,000 on a busy day, when the memorial draws up to 15,000 visitors.The foundation, chaired by Mayor Bloomberg, says the memorial and adjacent museum, when it opens, will cost $60 million a year to operate.

But critics have blasted the nonprofit’s $10.3 million payroll. Ten of the top 12 managers made more than $200,000 in 2011, the latest tax filings show. CEO Joe Daniels collected $336,224 in salary and benefits.

Lee Ielpi, a retired firefighter whose son died on 9/11, founded the nearby WTC Tribute Center(sic), which charges an adult admission of $22, including a walking tour of the memorial. Also a board member of the foundation, he expressed concern.

“I am in favor of a suggested donation, but not pressuring,” he said.

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