Privatizing National Greatness

While such leading conservatives as Weekly Standard Publisher Bill Kristol may be asking the government to somehow restore national greatness, the federal government is in fact looking to the private sector for help.

At Gettysburg National Military Park, the visitor center is so rickety that some soldiers' uniforms and weapons get a washing with each rain. To rectify this, the National Park Service is negotiating with a private firm to build and operate a new visitor center, bookstore, Imax movie theater (which would show National Geographic Society films), restaurant, and parking facility.

The $40 million in privately financed facilities would be built on private land within the boundaries of the park and operated by a nonprofit corporation. Under the proposed plan, which may not be finalized until the middle of 1998, both the land and the buildings will be donated to the Park Service after the debt is retired.

Private concessions are not new to national parks--hundreds of park concessionaires take in just under $700 million a year--but they are more common in the Western states than in the East, which may explain some of the opposition the plan has stirred.

Walter Powell, president of the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, opposes the partnership, telling The Washington Post it is a "travesty." The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Parks and Conservation Association, however, tentatively support the venture.

For its part, the Park Service--which sees such partnerships as a means to deliver high-quality services--views Gettysburg as a test case. "If you want to balance the budget and pay less taxes, how do we build a new visitors center?" asks spokesman Dave Barna. "We think we have a solution."

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