National Park Service Shut Down Philly Visitor Center Despite Private Funding Offer

By Penny Starr | October 24, 2013 | 10:51 PM EDT

The President's House, an open-air memorial on Independence Mall in Philadelphia that is normally available to tourists 24/7, was barricaded for two weeks during the 16-day federal government shutdown. ( Starr)

( – The Independence Visitor Center on Independence Mall in Philadelphia was closed for two weeks during the partial government shutdown, despite the fact that the non-profit organization that runs it offered to foot the bill to keep it open.

James Cuorato, president of the center, which is operated by the Independence Visitor Center Corporation, told that the National Park Service refused the center’s request to keep it open using private funding.

Cuorato said he “pleaded” with NPS to reopen the center, which had the money in its budget to operate through the end of the year.

“But they turned that down,” Cuorato said.

Cuorato said the center receives about 20 percent of their operating dollars from the National Park Service, with the remaining 80 percent coming from fundraising.

The National Park Service, which owns the building and the land that the center sits on, shut the center down on Oct. 1 and did not reopen it until Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law a continuing resolution to keep the government temporarily funded on Oct. 16.

The Independence Visitor Center in Philadelphia was closed for two weeks during the partial shutdown of the federal government despite its offer to the National Park Service to keep it open using private funding. ( Starr)

Cuorato said that The President’s House, an open-air memorial on the site of a house where President George Washington and John Adams lived in the 1790s that’s usually open 24/7 to visitors, was barricaded for the 16-day shutdown. The memorial, located across the street from the center, includes a Plexiglas window that visitors can look through to see the foundation of the original structure.

Cuorato called the closure of the open-air memorial “a disgrace.”

Jonathan Bari, president of The Constitutional Walking Tour, called the barricading of The President’s House “unprecedented” for an open-air memorial in Philadelphia.

Many of the sites Bari’s tours include were shut down, including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Museum and the Second Bank of the United States.

Private sector sites, like the Betsy Ross House and The National Constitution Center, remained open.

When asked by why the NPS rejected the offer from the Independence Visitor Center to open and operate with private funding, a spokesperson for NPS provided the following answer via email.

"The National Park Service accepted donations from states - through formal donor agreements - to reopen a small number of national parks before the government shutdown ended," the spokesperson said.