REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- The problem-plagued Museum of Tolerance project is facing new challenges amid a dispute between the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is
backing the controversial development, and its latest architect.
Chyutin Architects is threatening to resign after the Wiesenthal Center withheld a scheduled payment over what center officials say is the architect’s failure to meet certain contractual obligations on the $100-million project, according to Wiesenthal spokesman Lior Chorev in Jerusalem.
"It’s a stupid contractual dispute," Chorev said. "Our financial guys have told them that once they fulfill the contract, we will pay them the money. This is donors' money. Our guys are just doing their job."
Officials at Chyutin could not be reached for comment. According to a Jerusalem city official quoted in the Haaretz newspaper Tuesday, the architects were threatening to quit because Wiesenthal officials "nagged them to death."
The friction follows the departure six weeks ago of the project manager for the proposed museum. Chorev said the firm was fired. A Wiesenthal spokeswoman in Los Angeles said the project would move ahead regardless of the dispute. Groundbreaking is expected to take place within a month.
"The construction is going forward as scheduled and the financial dispute will have no impact whatsoever on the project,'' center spokeswoman Avra Shapiro wrote in an email to The Times.
Chyutin was hired about a year ago after the high-profile departure of renowned architect Frank Gehry, who was originally hired to create a design that would turn the museum into an instant landmark.
The project has been dogged by lawsuits filed by opponents who say it is too large for its central Jerusalem location and is being constructed partly on a 12th century Muslim cemetery. Preliminary construction dug up ancient bones, forcing the relocation of graves.
The Wiesenthal Center has defeated legal challenges in Israeli courts and vowed to press ahead with the museum.
-- Edmund Sanders
Photo: The excavation site of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's planned Museum of Tolerance in 2006. Credit: Al Aqsa Foundation