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At Trade Center Deck, Views Are Lofty, as Are the Prices - New York Times

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

New York and Region

At Trade Center Deck, Views Are Lofty, as Are the Prices

By EDWIN MCDOWELL Published: April 11, 1997

On a clear day you can see not quite forever from the observation deck of the World Trade Center, but visibility was 50 miles recently, and one small child, pointing in the general direction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, excitedly told his mother, ''Look, Mommy, I can see up to Heaven.''

Nearby, a handful of youngsters in one of three 40-seat theaters on the deck oohed their way through a six-minute simulated aerial tour as their ''helicopter'' just barely avoided the Met Life building.

This is Top of the World, the new name of the newly refurbished and newly privatized observation deck. Closed since Jan. 6, the official opening is scheduled for noon, April 30, followed by an invitation-only reception. Meanwhile, thousands of more-or-less accidental tourists have discovered that the decks are open during a monthlong shakedown cruise.

The open air deck on the 110th floor, 1,377 feet above sea level, looks much as it did before the $6 million overhaul. But the glass-enclosed deck on the 107th floor, at 1,310 feet, has the three theaters, two gift shops and a food court modeled after a subway car.

The prices match its elevation: beer, $5.25; coffee, $1.75 (regular) and $2.25 (flavored); soda and fruit juice, $2.50 (small) and $3.50 (large). While prices do not include tax, they do entitle purchasers to eat in a sitting area modeled after Central Park.

In addition, 24 video monitors around the observation deck provide descriptions in six languages of 44 New York landmarks, including the World Trade Center's more-or-less friendly rival, the Empire State Building, which from Top of the World seems not much more than a chip shot away.

Admission to the World Trade Center observation deck is $10 for adults and $5 for children, including the ''helicopter ride'' and a nightly light show. Admission to the Empire State Building observation decks (the main deck on the 86th floor, the outside deck on the 102d) is $4.50 adults and $2.25 for children.

The Empire State Building had more than 3.5 million visitors last year. Attendance quickly returned to normal after a gunman killed a tourist and wounded six others on the observation deck in February. The World Trade Center, by contrast, averages 1.8 million visitors annually, except in 1993, when a terrorist bomb ripped through the center, killing six and wounding hundreds.

Charles Theokas, executive director of Top of the World, played down any rivalry with the Empire State Building, saying Top of the World's priority is not to fall below those 1.8 million visitors, ''then to add to that.''

Mr. Theokas is an executive with Ogden Entertainment, a division of Ogden Corporation of New York, which in 1995 outbid five other companies for the 11-year lease to run the observation floors. Ogden will pay the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the World Trade Center and had run the observation deck since its opening in 1976, a minimum of $5.5 million a year, plus a percentage of revenues based on admissions.

The Port Authority said the overhaul of the observation deck was unrelated to the bombing but directly related to its intention to focus on its core functions, transportation and commerce. ''We have been looking for some time for ways to privatize,'' said John Kampfe, a Port Authority spokesman, citing the sale in 1995 of the Vista Hotel to Host Marriott.

Both the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building now require visitors to walk through metal detectors, something that did not at first bother 4-year-old Danny Piscopio of Levittown, L.I., who visited Top of the World the other day. ''But then he was afraid the security guards were going to take his sandwich,'' said his mother, Audrey Piscopio.

Renata Gansner, a secretary for an engineering firm in Chur, Switzerland, who was visiting the trade center observation deck, said she found the view fascinating, adding that she did not give a second thought to the center's bombing, or to the killings at the Empire State Building, which she had visited the previous day.

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