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Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Date: November 15, 2005
Byline: Regina Medina

Historic changes to Independence Mall

Come next spring, there'll be a new view in town for residents and tourists to take in.

It will be "one spectacular vista from the Constitution Center to Independence Hall," said Rebecca Rimel, head of the Pew Charitable Trusts, a major funder of the Independence Mall restoration.

Say adios to the gravel pit adjacent to the Independence Visitor's Center, Market Street near 6th. And don't forget to bid a fond farewell to the old Liberty Bell Pavilion across the street.

And it's also time to end the confusing screening system to enter the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall, said Mary Bomar, Northeast director of the U.S. Park Service.

There will be two screening points, one at the Liberty Bell Center and the other inside Old City Hall, on Chestnut Street at 5th.

Yesterday's announcements were made outside the Visitor's Center by Rimel, Gov. Rendell, Mayor Street and Park Service officials Bomar and Dennis Reidenbach, whom Bomar named as acting superintendent of Independence National Historical Park.

And, of course, Ben Franklin was there, responding with a few "hoozahs."

Landscapers will plant grass and install paths, benches and lighting where the gravel pit is now, Rimel said. The pavilion, home to the Liberty Bell from the 1976 Bicentennial until October 2003, will be demolished.

The President's House will be rebuilt on the Mall. although where is unclear. The house will commemorate presidents George Washington, John Adams and their slaves, including Oney Judge, who escaped in Philadelphia.

For those seeking a place in which to express their right to free speech, officials announced the creation of a First Amendment Rights Area near 5th and Market.

"Each step is another step towards making this as good a visitor's city as there is in the United States," Rendell said.

He acknowledged all those involved in the landscaping project: the state, which allocated $6 million; the federal government, which allocated $1.9 million; the William Penn Foundation, which approved $1 million yesterday toward the project, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, $2.5 million.

Street, who recalled working on this vision when he was City Council president 10 years ago, said there were naysayers back then. He called yesterday "a great day."

The president of the Independence Mall Business and Residents Coalition said she applauded the new two-screening-area concept, which the group has been proposing for four years.

"Our immediate reaction is elation that after four years, there's a long-term solution at hand," she said. "When you screen people you don't do it a block away."

So far, the project has a $4 million shortfall. Its remaining costs are estimated at $16,552,685, according to figures provided by officials. To date, $12.53 million has been raised, according to the same officials.

The subsequent work on Independence Mall is expected to be completed July 2007.


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