By Lisa Fickenscher
Nov. 26, 2012
When Superstorm Sandy swept through Liberty and Ellis Islands last month, the damage it caused not only closed the attractions to the public through the end of the year—but about 400 people lost their jobs.
The concessionaire that runs the cafés and gift shops there, Evelyn Hill Inc., laid off 170 people, while the ferry company that brings visitors to the monuments, Statue Cruises, laid off 130 employees. The rest of the employees who lost their jobs provide security services or work for an audio firm that allows visitors to listen to the history of both islands while they take in the sights.
The National Park Service, which operates both islands, is assessing damage, which includes destroyed electrical systems, walkways and docks.
“We are putting together a stabilization plan to move forward in the short term, then we will move into the second phase of further recovery,” said a Park Service spokesman.
While the federal agency has not said when it expects the islands to reopen, some people close to the situation believe it will be many months.
“My guess is that they will be fully operational by April 1,” said Bradford Hill, president of Evelyn Hill, which has been the concessionaire at Liberty Island, its primary business, for 81 years.
While Evelyn Hill has laid off all but three employees, Statue Cruises has been able to retain some workers. It continues to offer harbor cruises that get visitors as close as possible to the Statue of Liberty without setting foot on the island. Both companies have sustained severe financial losses.
Hill estimates that his firm will lose $6.8 million in revenues from November through March, while Statue Cruises’ revenues are off by 80 percent. In fact, Statue Cruises was displaced from its offices at Liberty State Park, which was flooded, and is operating on one of its ferries in the marina.
“We don’t have landlines, but we are generating our own electricity and using cell phones,” said Michel Burke, vice president of Statue Cruises, which won the exclusive contract a few years ago to ferry visitors to both islands.
Statue Cruises has been speaking to Park Service officials, hoping that the islands will reopen even before all the repairs are completed.
Ideally, Burke says, the islands could reopen while some of the longer term recovery takes place.
“We just went for a whole year when the Statue of Liberty was not open to the public [a yearlong restoration project was completed in October], and yet it didn’t severely curtail visitation to the island.”
The Statue had reopened for just one day before the storm hit.
While the peak season for visiting both islands is in the spring and summer, when Liberty Island can attract up to 15,000 people a day, there is still significant demand during the holiday season, Hill said.
About 700,000 people visit Liberty Island between November and March and about 500,000 go to Ellis Island during that time, according to Hill. He is hoping that insurance will cover some of his losses over the next five months.
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