Intrepid Has Not Moved, But The Bill Has Risen To $60 Million

November 21st, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Intrepid Has Not Moved, But The Bill Has Risen To $60 Million

New York Times
November 21, 2006
By Patrick McGeehan
As a Navy salvage team works to free the World War II aircraft carrier Intrepid from a mound of mud in the Hudson River, the cost of fixing up the floating museum and its dock is rising to more than $60 million.
And even though the museum is privately run, virtually every dollar for the overhaul will come from taxpayers. Before the Intrepid’s operators sent an S.O.S. call to the Navy two weeks ago, the renovation project had already received pledges of $31 million from the federal government, $23 million from the city and $5 million from the state. Now the Navy is joining in to spend about $3 million to dig the ship out.
This level of government largess for a private museum, though not unprecedented, is rare. But the Intrepid offers elected officials in New York something other museums do not: an opportunity to show their support for the military regardless of their positions on the war in Iraq. Some have been sympathetic to the Intrepid’s plight because the foundation that runs the museum has also provided aid to wounded veterans and their families.
“The local officials are not for Iraq, but they were for World War II,” said Henry J. Stern, a former city parks commissioner who serves on the board of the Hudson River Park Trust, which controls the Intrepid’s pier. “This is a way of showing their commitment for America’s troops in a manner which is politically correct. It’s almost as if they want a throwback to the good wars, the wars when the country was united.”
Christine C. Quinn, the speaker of the City Council, acknowledged as much. Ms. Quinn, who opposes the war in Iraq, has been one of the Intrepid’s staunchest backers. “Supporting the Intrepid is a way of supporting the men and women in the military,” she said. “It’s even more important for those of us who stood in opposition to be supporters of our troops.”
New York’s two senators, Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both Democrats who have criticized President Bush’s strategy in Iraq, have also eagerly embraced the Intrepid’s cause.
The estimated cost of the entire project had topped $58 million before Nov. 6, the day a team of tugboats tried and failed to pull the ship from its berth and tow it to a dry dock in Bayonne, N.J. The Navy’s digging operation is an additional expense, which Bill White, president of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, said he had promised to try to repay.
To help with the bill, Ms. Quinn, whose 80-year-old father, Lawrence P. Quinn, served in the Navy during World War II, spurred the Council to pledge about $8.5 million for the ship’s overhaul; Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s office matched the Council’s contribution. (The Intrepid’s operators also plan to use about $5.7 million in previous financing from City Hall.) In addition, Gov. George E. Pataki pledged $5 million in early July.
Ms. Quinn has also promised $350,000 in Council funds this year to help pay for the Intrepid’s educational programs in schools while the museum is closed for the next 18 months.
More than half of the public money that has been raised — as much as $35 million — will go toward rebuilding Pier 86, for which the Intrepid pays just $1 a year in rent to the Hudson River Park Trust, Mr. White said. The rest of the cost will be for moving, repairing and refurbishing the ship.
None of the money will come from donations by corporations or wealthy individuals, sources that private museums usually tap for construction projects.
City officials said it was unusual for a private museum to have public sources cover the entire cost of a big capital project. More often, the city pays for a portion, as it did in contributing $65 million toward an $858 million new home for the Museum of Modern Art that was completed in 2004, said Kate D. Levin, commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs.
Ms. Levin said that there was no formula for deciding how much of a project should be publicly financed because some cultural institutions, most notably art museums, have an easier time raising private money than others do.
“We do look for private participation because that speaks to the overall health of the organization,” Ms. Levin said. “If you don’t have other people that care about you, that’s a bad sign.”
But, Ms. Levin added, in deciding to contribute, city officials credited the Intrepid’s management with having raised substantial private money to finance the museum’s operations and also considered the urgent need to move the ship because of the failing condition of the pier.
Other officials were sympathetic to the Intrepid’s needs because leaders of the Intrepid Foundation had raised tens of millions of dollars from donors in recent years to aid wounded veterans and the families of soldiers killed in Iraq.
When Mr. White went to City Hall to appeal for more money this year, he explained that “we’ve been distracted by a very important mission to raise money that was needed immediately for these families,” he recounted last week, adding, “How many times can you go back to the well in a two-year period?”
A sister charity, the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, has raised $35 million to build a rehabilitation center in Texas for soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. White, whose salary as president of the museum is $318,500, is also president of the Fallen Heroes Fund, which was founded by members of the Fisher family of New York. Arnold Fisher, the senior partner of the Fisher Brothers development firm, is the chairman of the museum foundation.
Mr. White also said he emphasized to city officials that the Intrepid draws tourists to New York City, and that the 750,000 people a year who visit the ship have a significant impact on the local economy. “We feel that it is a permanent fixture in New York,” Mr. White said.
Ms. Quinn, for one, was persuaded, especially, she said, after a Memorial Day meeting aboard the Intrepid with a young soldier who had lost a leg in combat.
“The Intrepid is certainly a big economic driver in the city and the borough,” she said. “It’s one of the few cultural institutions that is dedicated to the history of our military.”
She added that about 100,000 students visit the Intrepid each year, providing “a great opportunity to teach kids about the history of our country, about the Constitution, about the Bill of Rights.”
Before it closed on Oct. 1 for the overhaul, the museum employed six full-time teachers who conducted workshops for visiting students, said Fredda Plesser, executive director of the museum’s Michael Tyler Fisher Center for Education.
Some of those teachers were laid off, but with the help of grants from the city, others will continue to conduct the workshops in public schools, Ms. Plesser said. She said the museum also expected to receive $175,000 in grants from the city to run after-school programs for children.
Mr. Stern said elected officials were supportive of the Intrepid because its financial needs were great and pressing, and because its operators had nowhere else to turn.
“The sums are really so large here that I don’t see private people giving that much to this kind of museum,” Mr. Stern said. “It’s just popular education and awareness of something that’s very important and patriotic.”
Still, he added, the final cost to the taxpayers is a long way from being tallied. “If they say $60 million now,” he said, “who knows how much it will end up as?”

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