Thursday, January 19, 2012

Billionaire donates $7.5M for Washington Monument repairs

A billionaire history buff has stepped forward to donate the $7.5 million matching gift that's needed to start repairing cracks near the top of the Washington Monument from last summer's East Coast earthquake.

Businessman David Rubenstein told The Associated Press he was inspired to help fund the repairs to the 555-foot obelisk when it became clear how severely damaged it was by a 5.8-magnitude quake on Aug. 23. The monument received about 1 million visitors a year before the famous landmark was closed to the public after the quake.

The Park Service hopes to have a contractor begin work by the end of August. The repair work is expected to take a year to complete, likely keeping the monument closed for two years.

Congress allocated $7.5 million in December on the condition that private donations would match that amount. The National Park Service and nonprofit Trust for the National Mall are expected to announce Rubenstein's gift Thursday morning. It will be the largest gift to the nonprofit group, which aims to raise $350 million to restore the mall's grounds and facilities.

The combined $15 million in public and private funds is expected to cover the cost of repairing damage directly caused by the quake, said National Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson. Repairing water damage will cost more, as would a seismic study or reinforcements to strengthen the obelisk against future earthquakes, she said.

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