Port Authority head supports returning Sphere to 9-11 Memorial, but doesn’t insist on it

By Larry Higgs Asbury Park Press

The brother of a New York City firefighter who lost his life in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, wants the iconic Sphere sculpture, which stood in the plaza of the trade center, returned to the site. So do Port Authority of New York and New Jersey officials, but they stopped short of saying they would override the wishes of the 9/11 Memorial Foundation, which has blocked the Sphere’s return to a site at the memorial close to where it originally stood.

Michael Burke of the Bronx, whose brother, FDNY Capt. William Burke of Engine 21, was killed rescuing people in the towers, suggested that returning the Sphere to the site could be the centerpiece of this year’s commemoration, since the 9/11 Museum will not be open in time. He spoke at Thursday’s Port Authority Board meeting.

Currently located in Battery Park, the Sphere will have to be relocated as the city starts work on the park. Burke suggested locating it on the memorial grounds, around the corner from the visitor’s center, a location close to where it originally stood in Austin Tobin Plaza between the towers.

The battered bronze Sphere survived the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and was temporarily located in Battery Park. But Burke and Port Authority officials said members of the Memorial Foundation didn’t want the Sphere on the grounds because it “infringes on in the integrity of the memorial.”

“Mr. Burke’s request … resonates with many people in New York and in New Jersey and with many people at the Port Authority, where 84 members of the Port Authority family were killed on 9/11” said Patrick Foye, executive director. “The Memorial Foundation has opposed relocating it to the Memorial Plaza. We agree with Mr. Burke.”

Foye stopped short of saying whether the Port Authority could insist that the Sphere be returned, but that the topic could be the subject of negotiation.

“I’d hope the ultimate result will be an appropriate site for the Sphere, and one that’s respectful of the views of Mr. Burke and thousands of other (9/11) family members,” Foye said. “The point made by Mr. Burke is this was an artifact that survived and was affected by the horrors of 9/11 and placing it on the Memorial Plaza is entirely appropriate.”

If the Sphere were located on the plaza, it would be the only artifact of the terrorist attacks to be located above ground, since others would be contained in the museum, most of which is underground, Burke said.

“It’s awkward if your agency is trying to convey what 9/11 is about, and it says the Sphere can’t be part of the memorial experience,” Burke said. “It is absurd.”

Burke said he has 7,200 signatures on an online petition on his website and “Save the Sphere” Facebook page and said he’s received support from “several hundred” Battery Park city residents, including some public officials.

He compared it to building a Pearl Harbor memorial without the iconic wreckage of the sunken USS Arizona as an integral part of it.

One proposal was to have the Sphere on the fringes of the site near the pedestrian bridge over the West Side Highway. Burke said that isn’t acceptable.

“Put it by the Memorial Plaza, where it stood for 30 years,” he said.

Meanwhile, Port Authority officials endorsed a letter from Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo calling on the National Park Service to take over construction and running the 9/11 Memorial.

“The Port Authority is 100 percent behind the governors’ request,” Foye said. “The amount of support the foundation needs to complete the construction is sizable, and the amount of operating support it will need is sizable.”

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