Land acquisition snags, private fund-raising shortfalls, and related problems long have plagued efforts to build the Flight 93 Memorial. But agreement finally has been reached between all parties on a deal that seems to clear the way for the project to move forward.
The Flight 93 Memorial long has been a work in progress that has involved some very complicated legal, political, financial, and socio-cultural facets. Not surprisingly, various complications have forced repeated changes in the project schedule
But some of those complications vanished this past Saturday as the National Park Service, the landowner, and the Families of Flight 93 reached an understanding that would allow the Park Service to acquire 274 acres near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. With that agreement in hand, it shouldn't be long before the initial construction phase, which is to center on the "Sacred Ground" crash site at the memorial’s core, gets under way. There has been a reasonable expectation that at least this much of the project could be completed by the tenth anniversary of the crash in 2011.
In addition to the core Sacred Ground feature, current plans call for the construction of a visitor center, a main bowl area, a wind chimes tower, a "healing wetlands" area, and many other elements whose completion dates are yet to be determined.
Land acquisition, a vital component of the memorial project, long has been a major stumbling block to this memorial. Prior to this past Saturday's announcement, important progress had been made, including the recent addition of a key 57-acre tract.
Under the agreement reached Saturday, a court will decide the fair value of the land where Flight 93 actually crashed. The property currently is owned by Svonavec, Inc., which operates a quarry. With that agreement, the Park Service will receive access to the land and can commence final planning and actual construction of the memorial.
Back in 2005, the Flight 93 Memorial Task Force announced plans for a memorial that would consist of a two-square mile (1,300-acre) landscaped park incorporating the crash site. The entire tract would have to be acquired from private owners at a projected cost of $10 million.
When Flight 93 crashed on September 11, 2001, the actual site of the crash (which has come to be called the Sacred Ground) was on a 273-acre tract of land owned by a local businessman named Mike Svonavec. Because the memorial was quite naturally designed with the Sacred Ground as its core feature, the acquisition of Mr. Svonavec’s land was an essential goal.
Over the years, the Families of Flight 93 (Flight Families) organization has used donated funds to acquire various parcels of land, including a 711-acre parcel purchased from PBS Coals Inc. for $2.32 million, a 3-acre residential parcel that cost $112,000, and a 55.4 acre tract that sold for $125,000. All of this property was situated within the authorized boundaries of the memorial, and all of it was donated to the NPS.
It is no small matter that the property already acquired provides plenty of room for the memorial’s ancillary structures and activities.
Holding up acquisition of the final, key parcel of land were disputes over its worth. In February 2006 the NPS told Mr. Svonavec that the agency had appraised his land’s value at $250,000 – about $915 an acre. In 2007, the Flight 93 Families upped the ante, offering Svonavec $550,000 plus another $200,000 for his expenses. Neither offer was acceptable.
Leading up to Saturday's agreement, Mr. Svonavec had denied rumors that he might be holding out for perhaps as much as $10 million. He has also demanded to see three appraisals (one conducted by the NPS and two conducted by independent contractors) that the agency had refused to make public. Determined to leave no stone unturned, the Families of Flight 93 group even sent a letter to President Bush last month requesting that he seize the Svonavec tract by executive order.
As if land acquisition problems were not enough, raising the funds to pay for the memorial has also proven more problematic than expected. On the assumption that the final price tag for the memorial would be about $58 million, a target of $30 million was established for private fund-raising. Sad to say, the fund-raising campaign has not met its interim goals and is not on pace to meet its final target. That’s a moving final target, too, since the cost projections may very well prove to be overly optimistic.