Ellis Island, the historic point of arrival in the United States for more than 12 million European immigrants, has been closed since Hurricane Sandy hit New York Harbor on October 29, and the damage to its museum and other landmark structures will cost millions in repair expenses and lost income.
The National Park Service, which manages the Statue of Liberty National Monument, of which Ellis Island is a part, estimates that the damage to Ellis and Liberty Islands from Sandy will cost $59 million to repair.
Meanwhile, the Islands lose income with each day they are closed.
“We’re missing major revenue streams,” said Peg Zitko, vice president of public relations for the The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, a private not-for-profit group that helps support the national monument.
Zitko’s foundation runs a gift shop whose profits supplement and bolster the island’s popular Immigration Museum. For a fee, which also aids the museum, the foundation offers visitors an impressive-looking document chronicling information on their immigrant forbears that was gathered when the newcomers first arrived.
“When the island is open, people can do research right there at the family history center on search stations,” Zitko explained. “Many people visit during the holidays and people often choose to reproduce family records.”
The winter holiday season, when visitor numbers go up, is usually one of the most lucrative periods in the museum’s revenue cycle. This year, expectations were especially high, thanks to the October 28 reopening of the Statue of Liberty’s crown on neighboring Liberty Island after a yearlong $30 million renovation. Tickets to the top of Lady Liberty were already sold out through the end of 2012.
But even as visitors left Liberty Island on the afternoon of its grand reopening, winds were picking up, with gusts reaching 38 miles per hour. It was an ominous sign of what was to come.