Statue of Liberty reopens on New York state’s dime

Posted at 7:25 AM, Oct 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-14 08:37:11-04

NEW YORK (CNN) – The Statue of Liberty reopened Sunday morning thanks to state funding after it had been closed for 12 days as a result of the partial government shutdown.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature resorted to “unusual state action” and agreed to pay the operational costs of the Statue of Liberty until the federal government reopens, citing economic interests in a news conference Sunday.

New York state will pay $61,600 a day over the next several days from its tourism budget.

“Just on the economics of the matter, it makes obvious sense for us to pay for the costs of operation, which pales in comparison to the amount of money we are now losing,” Cuomo said.

According to a statement from Cuomo, a 2012 annual report from the National Park Service counted 3.7 million visitors to Liberty Island in 2011, generating nearly $200 million in economic activity and supporting more than 2,000 jobs.

Bill Rudin, chairman of the Battery Conservancy, which operates the 25-acre park and ticketing center for ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, said that 400 jobs have been lost at the Statue of Liberty and surrounding parks since the government shutdown began on October 1.

Rudin estimated that the 10,000 daily visitors each spend $35, adding up to losses in the thousands of dollars during the closure.

Bradford A. Hill, president of Evelyn Hill Inc., a family company that runs the gift shops and restaurants at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, said that the firm’s sales dropped nearly 70% this year between damage from Superstorm Sandy and the government shutdown.

Evelyn Hill Inc. had to lay off 110 employees, until the state stepped in to help.

“It is heartening to know that when Washington, D.C., fails to deliver to Americans, and there is no end to the gridlock in sight, we have a state that we can rely on to step up to the plate and take over critical responsibilities,” Hill said. “Today, with the leadership of Governor Cuomo, we opened our doors again today and welcomed back our employees.”

Cuomo said the state stepped in not just for economic reasons, but also for symbolic reasons.

“The Statue of Liberty is more than just a tourism destination, more than just a creator of economy, a creator of jobs; it is probably the most profound symbol for freedom and democracy, certainly in this country, but possibly around the world,” he said.

Tourists were happy to hear the announcement of the reopening and began lining up to visit the New York City landmark.

“We would have been disappointed. We probably would have taken the Staten Island ferry or a Circle Line Cruise to at least go near the island to get a picture, but I’ve done that before, and it’s just so much better to be on the island. It’s a really neat experience,” said Stacy Kratt, who was visiting New York City.

Like New York, Arizona and South Dakota struck similar deals to reopen the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore, respectively.

All national monuments and parks were closed when Congress failed to approve spending for the fiscal year.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees who maintain and secure the facilities were furloughed. The nation’s 401 National Park Service sites collectively average about 715,000 visitors per day.