NEW YORK (AP) - The 45,000-pound sphere sculpture that emerged largely intact from the rubble of the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11 attacks faces an uncertain future as officials prepare to remove it from the park where it has been on display for a decade.
"The Sphere," originally dedicated as a monument to world peace through trade, became an interim memorial in the months after 9/11. A year after the attacks, Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined Afghan President Hamid Karzai and officials from about 90 foreign nations at its base to light an eternal flame.
Nearly a decade later, the eternal flame could possibly be snuffed out, and there is no permanent plan for the 25-foot-high structure made of bronze and steel. Officials said this week it will be removed by the end of the month to make way for renovations to Battery Park, the green space that has been home to the sculpture.
Some family members of those killed have gathered thousands of signatures in an online petition urging officials to incorporate the sculpture into the 9/11 memorial and return it to the spot where it once stood as a centerpiece of a 5-acre plaza. Originally, Bloomberg said the battered globe would likely serve as a centerpiece for a permanent memorial, but ultimately it wasn't included in the plans.
Michael Burke, who lost his brother in the attacks and has been helping to lead the effort to get the sphere returned to the plaza, called the sculpture's exclusion a disgrace.
"It's the last remaining intact artifact of the trade center," he said Friday. "It represents the triumph of the values attacked, of peace and cooperation, over the terrorism, the hatred and intolerance that attacked."
As for the eternal flame, plans call for the gas line that feeds the fire to be turned off. But Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said the city is still evaluating what should be done.
"We're looking at a variety of options," she said in a statement.
Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which commissioned the statue in 1971, said Battery Park had never been intended as a permanent home for it. The agency may place the sphere in an airport hangar where other World Trade Center artifacts are already being stored, he said.
"We are exploring options on where it will be located in the short term," Marsico said in a statement. "The short-term location will be used until a permanent home is identified."
A spokeswoman for the city Parks Department didn't immediately respond to requests for information about the future of the eternal flame at the park memorial site.
Burke said the Port Authority had recently shared some renderings with him and other family members that depicted the possibility of placing the statue on Liberty Street, just across from the 9/11 Memorial. But he objected that the sculpture, now imbued with such history and significance, would not be prominently placed.
"It's not going to be part of the memorial experience," he said.