downtownexpress.com
Volume 20 Issue 13 | August 10 - 16, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Visitors returning to Battery Park from Liberty and Ellis Islands this week walk by the security tents. A new ferry operator plans to reduce the lines with online reservations for specific times sometime in the fall. U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner is continuing his push to reopen the Statue of Liberty to tourists.

Lady Liberty to break free of lines; reopening uncertain

By Jennifer Milne and Joe Orovic

Fanning herself in the late morning sun, Ana Brouman checked her watch. “The wait isn’t that bad, but it’s the heat,” she said, counting how many people were in front of her in line. Brouman was on her second visit to the city in 34 years, leaving behind San Diego sun for a bit of New York heat. “Last time I came here, I waited a good 20 minutes to see the Statue of Liberty. Today doesn’t seem so bad.”

About 20 people waited in line — not a small number considering it was a Monday morning. And while eagerly waiting to visit the big green lady on Liberty Island, some felt a bit cheated. A disheveled Brooklyn native who called himself “Chuck” asked the crowd, “What’s the point? You can’t go to the top!” A middle-aged couple confirmed this with others before leaving for an early lunch at the Carnegie Deli.

But things may be looking up for Lady Liberty’s visitors. The era of waiting in line should soon be over and, if U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn has his way, her crown will be reopened as well.

After 9/11, the statue was completely closed for security reasons. In August 2004, the pedestal of the monument reopened, with the statue closed. Today, visitors can access the pedestal observation deck, promenade and museum, but cannot go in the copper structure itself.

Rep. Weiner is hoping to get the statue back to pre-Sept. 11 status. He introduced a bill called “Save the Statue of Liberty Act” in the House, proposing the National Park Service make the safety upgrades necessary to re-open the crown and its observation deck. Weiner’s bill unanimously passed the House on June 26.

“One of the things that he proposed would be to allow access to the crown to small groups,” said Eric Koch, Weiner’s aide. Koch said his boss has proposed limiting the amount of people that can go up. “We’re trying to do it the same way you do the Washington Monument.”

In a press release dated July 4, Weiner announced Congressional hearings to determine why the statue is still closed after all these years, and what can be done to make it available to visitors.

Darren Boch, a National Park Service spokesperson, said the agency has worked with a number of architectural engineering firms, all of which have confirmed that the area inside the statue, between observation deck and crown, does not meet the minimum health and safety standards, or the building codes of New York City.

“At the end of the day, there’s just not enough room in that portion of the statue from the deck to the crown,” Boch said. “We’ve had studies tell us it would be extremely difficult and expensive to open the crown without altering the structure itself.”

As for Rep. Weiner’s proposed small-groups plan, Boch said the N.P.S. would need to look into it further.

“We’d have to do an assessment to see if that would be allowed under current laws,” Boch said. “If he wants to allocate funds for an assessment, we’d be happy to look at it.”

But none of this politicking matters much to the folks who have to wait in line on a steamy summer day.

“Dammit,” said a frustrated Brouman, still in line, waiting longer than she had expected. “How long will this take?”

For Brouman and countless others waiting to see Lady Liberty, the long lines to pick up tickets may be a thing of the past.

Circle Line, which ran the Liberty Island ferry service, lost the route to Statue Cruises, a division of Hornblower Cruises and Events, which signed a 10-year contract July 26. Hornblower is a California-based company that offers boat tours in San Francisco, Berkeley, Marina del Rey, San Diego and Newport Beach, including the cruise to Alcatraz Island.

Statue Cruises has some big plans in store for its route, and online ticketing may be the biggest improvement. While Circle Line did allow reservations to be made online, Statue Cruises plans to update the program so that waits are no more than an hour.

“Having an online reservations system is one key element for reducing lines,” said Tegan Firth, a spokesperson for Hornblower Cruises. “One of the features [gives] … people the option to print their tickets at home and just arrive. They can bypass the initial ticket pickup line entirely and go straight to the security line.”

Hornblower C.E.O. Terry MacRae told the Associated Press on July 26 that the company would be taking over the route from the Circle Line on Oct. 2. But Firth said last week that the firm is still negotiating with Circle Line and does not have an exact turnover date.

The uncertain date for the switch has left some tourists confused. In an online travel forum, Trip Advisor, RosDurhamUK wrote: “I am trying to book online for the ferry for October 11th. I have tried to use the link at the side of the forum about New York Attractions. I have tried various other links and I keep getting the Circle Line site and when I put in my date – its coming up with invalid tour date. What am I doing wrong?”

For travelers that have already booked trips to New York City, Firth recommends checking the company’s Web site, www.statuecruises.com, frequently.

“The only advice I can really offer is to keep checking both Web sites [Statue Cruises and Circle Line],” Firth said. “At some point, hopefully soon, the official start date will be resolved. Either we will or Circle Line will release tickets for after Oct. 1.”

As part of the new, improved cruises to the island, Statue Cruises also plans to have presentations about immigrant history and podcasts for all visitors, which may leave the statue’s visitors wondering what happened to just waiting in line.

“Well, that’s nice,” said Alice Cummings, 74, after hearing about the new tech-friendly ride. “That means she can do all the work from now on,” she said, pointing to her granddaughter Stefanie, who was visiting the statue for the first time.

The security line tents in Battery Park have long been criticized as an eyesore and there have been periodic discussions about moving it to Pier A. The city recently got control back of the pier which may mean a reopening of the talks.

Warrie Price, president of the Battery Conservancy, won’t miss the long lines that typically snake around the park. She hopes that Statue Cruises’ new online reservations and print-at-home feature will help.

“We are hopeful that the visitors will be better served with online reservation ticketing,” Price said in an e-mail.  “In the past most of the lines in the park were due to the security system after you have a ticket. But having a timed ticket should help this situation. We [the Battery Conservancy] will continue to give the visitors beautiful gardens to see, and walk through, on their way to the Statue.”

But for Rep. Weiner, a new and improved waiting line doesn’t matter if Lady Liberty remains shuttered.

“What’s the point of this new line if it’ll go to the same closed Statue?” asked a spokesperson for Weiner.





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