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Statue of Liberty needs $5 million security upgrades to reopen

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) NEW YORK — To those classic lines, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," add another: "Give me your money."

The Statue of Liberty, the ultimate emblem of this country's freedom, is going begging. More than two years after terrorists attacked the United States, destroying the World Trade Center, the statue is the only national monument still closed to visitors, and government officials say they don't know when it will reopen.

The complexity of designing new entrances and exits to the statue and the need to raise $5 million to pay for the changes have held up the reopening.

"The primary need is for visitor safety," said Stephen A. Briganti, chief executive of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, the private group that raises money for the statue. "Primarily, it's the opportunity to get people in and out more quickly."

About 13,000 people visited the statue daily before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Officials of the National Park Service and the foundation are reluctant to discuss specifics, but they say the statue, with only one way in and out, simply could not evacuate visitors quickly enough if a terrorist attacked or some other disaster struck.

Visitors cannot go in the statue, but they can walk around it on Liberty Island and visit nearby Ellis Island on the same ferry ride.

"There are special security and safety concerns we've had with it that really make it different from the other monuments," said Brian Feeney, spokesman for the National Park Service.

They also want to be sure that they do the job right.


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"It's nothing we wanted to rush," said Feeney.

The Park Service is still deciding whether it will limit tours to the pedestal, and not the body of the statue, when it reopens. (Insider tip: The best view of Manhattan is from the pedestal, not from the tiny window in the crown, Feeney said.)

The statue was closed once before in 1916 when an explosion on the Jersey docks popped some bolts from its framework. It reopened after a week.

Oddly, the Statue is partly a victim of its own populist history.

When sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design a statue celebrating the friendship between France and the United States, fund raising was largely private. The French sent the torch and part of the arm to the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park to generate interest and donations.

Boston, Philadelphia and other cities vied with New York to be Liberty's home, statue librarian Jeff Dosik said.

But Bartholdi saw New York's harbor as the perfect spot for his work of art. An editorial and fund-raising drive by New York World publisher Joseph Pulitzer also gave this city an edge, and the statue was unveiled here in October 1886.

In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan tapped Chrysler Corp. chairman Lee Iacocca to raise money to overhaul the statue and Ellis Island, which led to the creation of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.

For the most recent drive, several big players have pitched in. American Express has pledged a minimum of $3 million. The company also commissioned Martin Scorsese to direct a documentary about the Statue, which has been airing on the History Channel. Folgers coffee has said it will contribute up to $500,000, and individuals can donate at www.statueofliberty.org.

Briganti said he is confident he will raise the $5 million but would not provide a current total. It was unclear when the money would be in hand, but the park service hopes to have an announcement by the end of March.

The private fund-raising approach has some New York leaders scratching their heads. U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D., N.Y.) questioned why the federal government was using "bake sale type fund-raising to pay for security at one of the country's most important national monuments."

In a letter responding to Maloney, the National Park Service cited the Statue's long history of private fund-raising as one reason. But still, Maloney and others wonder why the federal government doesn't just put up the $5 million.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the number of visitors to the Statue has shrunk 40 percent.

Even so, on a Manhattan day so chilly that a few moments in the wind numbed noses, visitors still crowded the ferry to the statue.

On Liberty Island, Micaela Grinza, head wrapped in a scarf and body encased in down, struck a pose like the statue's while her boyfriend, Franco Mercurirali, snapped her picture.

The two had flown from Argentina to tour New York. They were stunned to see the hole in the ground where the World Trade Center once stood. It helped them understand why the statue was closed.

"You look across to where the Twin Towers were and you know why," Grinza said.

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