Of Course Philadelphia Cares About Independence Historical National Park
The board chair and the executive director of the Independence Historical Trust respond to Philly Mag’s recent article on the state of Independence Hall.
A simple response to your July 2019 article asking whether anyone cares about Independence Historical National Historical Park is … absolutely!
Over the last many years the park has seen steady growth in visitation, with 4.6 million visitors last year alone. At the same time its budget has remained relatively constant while the cost of doing business to preserve and protect the park’s resources continues to rise annually. While not a unique business situation to be in, it is one that results in noticeable effects to park operations and considerable deferred maintenance.
Fortunately, for those park assets and operations that are fully available to the public, the visitor satisfaction rate has remained at a 98 percent level. But with the exciting opportunity to showcase our community during the 2026 sesquicentennial and celebrate the founding of our great nation 250 years ago, there is still much to do.
The board of the recently reconstituted Independence Historical Trust (INHT) is proud to support the park. Our goals are simple: to work to creatively generate funds not just for the park, but its growing and related environs. While respecting the values of our national park system as public assets, INHT needs to work in innovative ways to meet the optimum visitation needs. The park has a long tradition of partnerships to reconcile challenges and create opportunities.
Independence Mall was totally renovated between 2000 and 2009 with a public-private partnership. The President’s House site was largely funded by the City of Philadelphia in collaboration with the park. The park’s Benjamin Franklin Museum of Franklin Court was transformed to great acclaim in 2013 with a partnership that consisted of $12 million in private money and $12 million in National Park Service funds. The Pew Charitable Trusts provided excellent leadership in the Mall and the museum projects’ funding.
The largesse exhibited by our community is alive and well today. Most recently Brightview Landscaping Co. provided more than $300,000 in donated services and construction work for improvements to the great lawn and surrounding gardens that face Independence Hall. Brightview’s contribution is a shining example of an unsolicited corporate partner stepping up to lend a hand and ensure the best in class appearance of our park’s open spaces.
The recently expanded Independence Visitor Center, managed by the park with a 501(c)3 corporation (Independence Visitor Center Corporation), is also an example of a partnership that is able to tap into private and philanthropic funds helping to ready our city for 2026 creating a new suite of visitor services and experiences for the park that otherwise couldn’t be funded by our government.
For more than 30 years, the First Bank has been generally closed to the public. Yet as the oldest federally constructed building in our nation and a key feature of our banking system designed by Alexander Hamilton, it is the subject of another great partnership between the park and INHT. We are working to ensure its opening for 2026. To date some $12 million in non-federal funds is secured toward this $30 million effort to create a unique museum and experience to contribute to the financial literacy of our park’s visitors.
Yes, we still have challenges, but moreover we have the energy, willingness, and commitment to meet them head-on. We invite everyone from this great Philadelphia metropolitan area to participate in the showcasing of our park, not only in 2026 but every day. Like you, we too have pride in these commanding cultural assets. And like your readers, yes we care!
Bill Marrazzo is the CEO of WHYY and the board chair of the Independence Historical Trust. Tom Caramanico is the executive director of the Independence Historical Trust.