Freedom Center in Doubt

In fall 2001, not long after hundreds of makeshift hospital beds had been set up at Chelsea Piers to receive injured survivors from the World Trade Center - beds that were never used - Tom A. Bernstein, president of Chelsea Piers, envisioned reclaiming ground zero with the power of an idea.

The idea was freedom, embodied in an institution that would transmit its value to future generations. To build it, Mr. Bernstein said in 2004 he expected "years of intense labor, contentious debate and struggle." He is getting them.

The institution conceived by Mr. Bernstein and Peter W. Kunhardt has changed names - Museum of Freedom, Freedom Center, International Freedom Center - and it has changed elements.

Exhibits recounting the events of 9/11 were initially integral to its plans, then were removed at the request of state officials and now have been restored.

Mr. Bernstein, who counts President Bush among his friends, has had to defend the center from those who say that it would be jingoistic by depicting an unblemished America as well as from those who complain that it would be un-American by dwelling on failures of social and foreign policy.

Though the center was picked in 2004 to occupy the cultural building in a memorial quadrant - "part of a lasting tribute to freedom," Gov. George E. Pataki said when he unveiled the design - it now faces expulsion by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation unless the agency can be assured of a "suitable and inspiring outcome."

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