BATTERY PARK CITY — The federal government may still be closed for business, but the Statue of Liberty threw open its doors Sunday after New York State stepped up to pay for the park's administration amid the shutdown.
Bright and early at 9 a.m., the Statue of Liberty ferry service set sail for Liberty Island once more, after 12 days of closure to the public following the U.S. government shutdown.
In a deal reached Friday between the federal government, state officials, and the National Parks Service, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York would pay the $61,600 per day to keep the city's landmark open for business until October 17.
At a press conference in Lower Manhattan's Wagner Park, with the statue in the background, Gov. Cuomo said it was a "proud day" for New Yorkers. "The economic damage done by closing the Statue of Liberty was profound," he said. "You close down the Statue of Liberty, you close down a large portion of the tourism that comes to New York. It is clearly in the state's best interest."
It will cost the state $369,600 for the six days it will have to pay for the statue's operating costs. After October 17, the deadline for a government default, the state will need to renegotiate to keep the park open longer if the government continues to be at a standstill.
Gov. Cuomo said this figure "paled in comparison to the amount of money we are now losing."
The Liberty Island National Park brought in 3.7 million visitors and $174 million in revenue in 2011, said National Park Service officials.
The statue's draw is so great that it contributes to many other businesses around the city, the service said, estimating that every visitor spends on average $35 per visit, buying snacks, ferry tickets, and souvenirs. Park services said that on top of that, each visit comes with up to $100 in additional expenses.
Battery Conservancy president Bill Rudin said that the federal government is losing $50,000 each day in concessioner fees alone from the park's closure. One of those concession businesses is Evelyn Hill, Inc. which operates the Liberty and Ellis Island ferry services, and the restuarants and souvenir stores on each island.
The company's president, Brad Hill, announced that some 110 company workers which had been laid off following the park's shutdown had been reinstated at their jobs.
"Our livelihoods are completely dependent on Lady Liberty," he said.
The company's business was already down 70 percent this year, he said. The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy had a bad effect on the business, with Liberty Island closed for 8 months over the past year, and just having reopened on July 4. Ellis Island remains closed for further repairs.
Recalling the impact of the storm, Hills said Evelyn Hill, Inc. had almost folded because of this new crisis. "We were once again forced to struggle to survive."
A total of 2,218 jobs at the park are at similar risk, according to the Park Service. As a result of the shut down, 400 jobs have already been lost in only 12 days at Ellis Island and Liberty Island according to the non-profit organization The Battery Conservancy.
The government shutdown, which began on October 1, shuttered all 401 national parks in the U.S., furloughing 20,000 employees and causing huge amounts of economic damage to areas across the country that rely on tourism. In New York, the statue was the first of 33 national parks sites in the state to reopen.
The statue joins other iconic American parks and monuments that have reopened to the public at the expense of their home states.
Others include Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Most parks remained closed, however.
Highlighting the statue's significance as a city and national landmark, Gov. Cuomo said it was an obvious choice to support the park until the federal government reopens.
"It is probably the most profound symbol for freedom and democracy, certainly in this country, if not the world," he said.