By JAMES BARRON and SYDNEY EMBER
Published: August 10, 2011
After the 9/11 attacks, the federal government closed the Statue of Liberty National Monument, the symbol of a nation’s dreams and one of the city’s best-known and most-visited tourist attractions. Allowing people inside would be unsafe, the National Park Service said, because rescuers might not be able to get them out in an emergency.
Three years later, the base, the pedestal and the observation deck were reopened after $6.7 million in improvements to fire and security systems. Five years after that, in 2009, the crown — and the 146 narrow steps to it — reopened on the Fourth of July.
Now the statue is closing again.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says it needs a $27.25 million renovation for additional safety improvements that he promised in 2009. Officials said the work, which is expected to take a year, could not begin sooner because they did not finish the planning and arrange the financing until a few months ago.
And, they added on Wednesday, they did not want the statue to be closed on the 125th anniversary of its dedication on Oct. 28. So they will shut it down the next day.
“It’s disappointing,” said Vince Swift, the president of the Statue of Liberty Club, a nonprofit group, “but if it has to be any length of time, I’m glad it’s only a year.”
David Luchsinger, the superintendent of the monument and of Ellis Island for the National Park Service, said that the vast majority of visitors do not bother with the climb inside the statue. “They’re going to get the exact same experience” while the statue is closed, he said, because Liberty Island will remain open while the work is going on.
Mr. Salazar called the renovations “a major step in bringing a 19th-century icon into the 21st century.” The Park Service said the project would involve updating the statue’s mechanical and electrical systems, along with its fire-suppression equipment. The two open staircases will be separated from each other, and one will get walls, a plus for safety. The elevator that runs from the ground floor to the fifth floor will be replaced and will ascend and descend in a new, fire-resistant shaft.
“It’s safe now, but it will be so much safer when we’re done,” said Mr. Luchsinger, adding that he was “guardedly optimistic” that the work would be completed in time for the 126th anniversary in October 2012.
Mr. Luchsinger said he did not believe the closing would affect vendors who depend on the crowds, because Liberty Island would still be open. “Most folks just want to come over, walk around and get their picture taken,” he said.
Mike Burke, a vice president and chief operating officer of Statue Cruises, which operates ferries from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan and Liberty State Park in Jersey City, echoed that idea, saying the crowds would not thin out — if what is happening to the statue is described a certain way.
“It’s a restriction, not a closing,” he said. “We are concerned people will not hear the correct message, and they’ll focus on the word ‘close.’ The operative word to not use — please, please, please — is close. They’re going to restrict access to the statue’s pedestal and the interior. That’s the only change. Everything on Liberty Island outside of the statue is unaffected. There will be no scaffolding and very little interruption of activity.”
But some tourists disagreed. Briana Ezray, 19, of Sacramento, said the statue just would not be the same without full access.
“You can see pictures from the outside all the time,” she said after visiting the statue. “The inside is something you can only experience here.”
Like Mr. Swift of the State of Liberty Club, Fernando Riano, who dresses in a Statue of Liberty outfit as a street performer near Battery Park, said he was disappointed about the construction. Since coming to the United States from Colombia in the 1990s, he said, he has felt a special connection to the statue. Since becoming a citizen in 2005, he said, he has taken pride in watching the crowds intent on going inside the famous monument they had seen only in photographs or on television.
“The first time I came, I was so happy to see the statue,” he said. “This is the symbol of liberty. Everybody dreams of seeing the statue.”
Matt Flegenheimer contributed reporting.http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/11/nyregion/statue-of-liberty-will-close-for-a-year-to-further-improve-safety.html?_r=1&ref=global-home http://www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm