By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
— Right now it’s just a grassy parcel of land on the discreet corner of Erie Avenue and Zimmerman Street.
But by next year, it’s going to be a testament to the thousands lost nearly 11 years ago.
The planned 9/11 memorial in North Tonawanda came together in part through happenstance, but also through a little initiative from Mayor Rob Ortt, when he heard about the possibility of retrieving a piece of the World Trade Center and sent an e-mail to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last fall expressing his interest in obtaining an artifact.
After laying out a detailed plan for a memorial in the city, and in direct competition with 2,000 other municipalities and organizations across the country, the city procured a 3-foot rusted steel section of a Twin Towers I-beam, and the project began to take on a life of its own.
After some consternation, Ortt handed the design for the memorial over to the youth of the city in a contest for North Tonawanda High School’s architecture and art students.
Two students, Mitchell Mistriner and Michael Carroll, created the winning design that was announced in May, after a viewing at the Carnegie Art Center that allowed residents to chime in on what they viewed as the favored blueprint among more than 67 submissions.
The project was required to include elements of the three areas where victims of the 9/11 attack had perished, including the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and Shanksville, Pa., and will incorporate the beam, a monolithic piece of granite and two lights shooting up into the sky to signify the Twin Towers.
The testament to those who endured the attacks, including the many firefighters who entered the towers to save those trapped inside, then perished themselves, will be brought to light by its very location, in front of Sweeney Hose Co. #7, next to the North Tonawanda Fire Department.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said NT Fire Chief John Lapham.
In the meantime, the city is putting together the final plans, taking it from a design to a reality, with construction on the memorial expected to start next spring or summer, in time for a dedication ceremony on Sept. 11, 2013. The beam is being held at fire department headquarters, where it has been since last year.
Ortt said it will cost roughly $20,000, with contributions coming from the fire department’s union, while city engineer Dale Marshall is hashing out the final aspects of the plan.
The mayor, who served in Afghanistan after the attacks, said it was important for him to bring the younger generations into the mix in order to gain a greater understanding of what it means to American society as well as the courageous response that ensued.
“It ties them into what the events of that day (meant),” Ortt said. “It’s both a sobering experience and a tribute to heroism.”
Contact reporter Michael Reganat 693-1000, ext. 4115.