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Statue of Liberty will reopen despite government shutdown

Statue of Liberty will reopen despite government shutdown

Cuomo: 'We want to see tourism flowing'
Statue of Liberty will reopen despite government shutdown
The Statue of Liberty on March 21, 2017.
Photographer: Vincent Tullo/The New York Times

NEW YORK — State and federal officials reached a deal Sunday to reopen the Statue of Liberty, a day after the federal government shutdown forced it to close.

The monument and nearby Ellis Island, which are operated by the National Park Service, are expected to open Monday. Under a deal with the Interior Department, New York state will pay about $65,000 a day out of its tourism budget to cover the sites’ operating costs.

RELATED: Effects of federal government shutdown felt in Capital Region

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the statue’s reopening Sunday afternoon in Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park in lower Manhattan, where ferry service passes on its way to the monument. He said the state would pay to keep the Statue of Liberty open for as long as it takes lawmakers in Washington to resolve their impasse.

“From our point of view it’s a good investment, because the revenue we gain from the tourists is multiples of what it will cost to actually pay to open the Statue of Liberty,” Cuomo said Sunday. “We want to see tourism flowing, we want to see people coming and we don’t want any disruptions.”

The governor’s office said in a news release that more than 12,000 people, who would have paid $21.50 each, had been turned away each day of the shutdown. Ridership on Statue Cruises, which runs boats from Battery Park to the Statue of Liberty and nearby Ellis Island, declined by up to 70 percent, according to the release.

The two sites are at the top of visitors’ itineraries, the governor said. About 4.5 million people visited Liberty Island in 2016, and spent more than $263 million, according to the release, citing the National Park Service’s annual report.

On Sunday, during their first trip to New York, Mathew Neve, 40, and his wife, Angelique, 34, of France, went to the Bronx and the Top of the Rock. They had hoped to cap off the day with a visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

“We wanted to see it,” Mathew Neve said. “We didn’t know the shutdown would make it impossible.”

They said they planned to try again Monday before returning home on an afternoon flight. But even if they could not see the sites, their trip would still have been, in Neve’s words, “terrific.”

The Interior Department, which oversees the National Park Service, and the governor reached a similar deal during a government shutdown in 2013 that lasted more than two weeks. Under that deal, the state paid the Park Service about $250,000 so that its personnel could reopen Liberty Island, where the statue stands, for four days. Ellis Island was not included.

Cuomo said the previous shutdown taught him not to assume that the budget stalemate would be short-lived. “We learned our lesson and we stepped in immediately,” he said.

New York state has 35 sites under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, including places like the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan and Niagara Falls. The deal does not include them, and many are partially or fully closed to visitors because of the budget stalemate in Washington.

The federal government shut down Saturday as Republicans and Democrats in Congress feuded over spending, including a program that protects young unauthorized immigrants. The Senate is expected to vote on a temporary spending bill at 1 a.m. Monday.

Cuomo said the Statue of Liberty was a symbol that had welcomed immigrants to the United States for more than a century and that shuttering it was an anathema.

“It’s all about welcoming people,” said the governor, whose grandparents immigrated from Italy. “It’s all about bringing people here. The concept of closing the doors to immigrants is repugnant to the concept of America.”

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