- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

A group working to preserve open space on the Mall said yesterday that events like this week’s NFL extravaganza have turned a historic treasure into a corporate playground, and said the situation will only worsen.

“Don’t be surprised if we have a repeat of this next year,” said Judy Scott Feldman, president of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall. “It has set a precedent for commercial advertising on the Mall.”

The NFL Kickoff Live, a prelude to pro football’s opening game last night, the Washington Redskins vs. the New York Jets, featured an estimated $35 million in marketing and included concerts from the likes of Aerosmith, Britney Spears and Aretha Franklin.

Ms. Feldman, who leads the national, not-for-profit organization, called the event just one of many that fly in the face of the true purpose of the Mall. She said the Mall should be a space open to pedestrians and that embodies democracy. And she hopes this week’s events will alert people that the Mall is not being used for its original purpose.

One concern was that the huge TV screens known as JumboTrons were, for the first time on the Mall, showing commercials during the game.

The 3-year-old coalition said the NFL should instead hold such events in commercial areas, like last year when 500,000 attended the event at New York’s Times Square.

NFL executives defended this year’s event, saying it is a tribute to the military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an opportunity for people to gather and watch star performers for no charge.

The coalition’s 1,500 nationwide members also oppose the underground visitors center at the Washington Monument that was proposed after the September 11 attacks.

The National Capital Planning Commission gave conceptual approval last year for a tunnel, which Ms. Feldman thinks will lead to unsightly structures above ground. Among them would be a 30-inch-high wall that would restrict visitors from the monument.

George Oberlander, treasurer of the coalition, said the proliferation of structures on the Mall has detracted from its historical feel.

He said that with the buildup, there can no longer be an unobstructed ocean of people like the one Martin Luther King looked down and saw in 1963 when he gave his famous speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

“It was an image burned into the mind of so many,” Mr. Oberlander said. “You couldn’t have that anymore.”

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