NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Officials at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum announced Wednesday that attendance has exceeded expectations since opening last month.

More than 300,000 people have visited the museum since it opened to survivors and victims’ relatives on May 15 and to the public on May 21.

The attendance total has topped projections by about 5 percent since the institution opened, President Joe Daniels said.

Built amid the former World Trade Center’s footprints, the underground museum was designed as a more historical, immersive complement to the memorial plaza and waterfall pools above. The museum includes profiles of the nearly 3,000 victims, recordings of survivors telling their stories, and artifacts ranging from a giant trade center column to shoes shed as people fled the burning towers.

The museum’s organizers had expected to draw in 2.5 million visitors a year, and Daniels said they projected 1.5 million from its opening through the rest of 2014.

Organizers said they see the numbers as a strong start for the ground zero museum, which had faced questions about its $24 ticket price.

“We feel great about the numbers,” Daniels said.

With admissions sales expected to cover much of the $63 million-a-year cost of running the museum and memorial, attendance is key to the museum’s finances.

But the fee has drawn criticism from some Sept. 11 victims’ relatives who see it as prohibitively steep, though some other victims’ families argue it’s needed to keep the museum financially healthy.

The museum also faced several flaps in its first weeks, including complaints about a gift shop where wares initially included a U.S.-map-shaped platter with heart symbols marking where the hijacked planes struck on Sept. 11, 2001.

That specific piece is no longer sold in the gift shop, and Daniels has pledged to seek more input on products from victims’ relatives on the museum board.

While visitors from around the world converge on ground zero, the museum has stirred mixed feelings among New Yorkers.

“It’s too political for me,” Brooklyn engineering student Ako Morie, 35, said.

For Staten Island resident Pam Gregory, revisiting Sept. 11 at the museum was “like reliving it again.”

Early data, however, shows more museumgoers are from New York state than any other, and New Jersey is third after California, Daniels said.

“It’s quite amazing — very sad, but necessary,” Gregory added. “Absolutely necessary.”

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