It will be years before the millions of people who want to visit the center have unfettered access to the memorial site, said Joe Daniels, president of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Ultimately, visitors will be able to approach the memorial and its green spaces and cobblestoned plazas from all sides. But for years visitors will be surrounded by construction of skyscrapers and a transit hub and may only use one entrance, and organizers will observe strict capacity limits for safety reasons, Daniels said.
"We are planning to use a free, timed reservation system," Daniels said Monday. "Visitors will plan their trip to the memorial in advance by reserving a pass for a specific date for a specific time."
Preliminary plans call for a limit of 1,500 visitors at a time, with special consideration being given to the relatives of Sept. 11 victims. Visitors will have to sign up online for available spots and print out their free tickets.
The foundation president, who presented details of the opening to a downtown Manhattan community board on Monday night, said that the first public visitors to the site would get spectacular views of the rebuilding.
"When they look around, they are going to be seeing, column by column, floor by floor, the World Trade Center site being rebuilt," Daniels told The Associated Press on Monday. "It's the front-row seat of seeing the tallest building in the United States built."
The 1,776-foot 1 World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower, is being built just northwest of the memorial site and won't open until 2013. Hundreds of trees will still need to be planted, and cobblestones will need to be filled in to the 8-acre memorial plaza after Sept. 11, 2011. A transit hub is under construction at the site until at least 2015, along with at least one other skyscraper planned for the site. A performing arts center initially was planned for the site.
Daniels said visitors would not need hard hats to visit "Reflecting Absence," the twin reflecting pools shaped in the footprints of the fallen twin towers and surrounded by parapets listing the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks and in the 1993 trade center bombing. The first visitors from the public will be allowed in on Sept. 12, the day after a 10th anniversary ceremony at the site for victims' families and other invited guests.
The "vast majority" of the 4 million to 5 million visitors expected to visit the memorial the first year are expected to get in, Daniels said.
One corner of the memorial will remain under construction for some time after the opening, although it won't prevent visitors from viewing the waterfall-filled pools.
Daniels said that noise from the waterfalls might drown out the cranes and construction noise.
"It's created this absolutely beautiful white-noise separation" from the construction, he said.
Associated Press writer Tom McElroy contributed to this report.