Alcatraz attracts attention by selling pieces of prison

SAN FRANCISCO: Recent visitors to Alcatraz have been leaving with a more interesting souvenir than the traditional "I escaped from Alcatraz" T-shirt. As part of an $8 million seismic retrofit and upgrade currently underway, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy is selling chunks of the former prison.

SAN FRANCISCO: Recent visitors to Alcatraz have been leaving with a more interesting souvenir than the traditional "I escaped from Alcatraz" T-shirt. As part of an $8 million seismic retrofit and upgrade currently underway, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy is selling chunks of the former prison.

But the effort is doing more than raising money. It's also generating more press coverage than anticipated.

"We expected the local press to be interested in this," said Grier Mathews, associate director for marketing and communications at the conservancy. "But we've also seen coverage in Brunei, Canada, Japan, Australia, and England."

The idea to sell parts of Alcatraz came about as the retrofitting began. As the work began to produce rubble from old foundations, the conservancy realized it would be expensive to have the rubble removed and hauled away.

"We decided to sell the rubble, and get it off the island piece by piece," said Mathews. "We saw it as an educational opportunity, along with a fundraising opportunity. We weren't expecting to make money. But we figured it would save us money."

And while the "Save the Rock" campaign, with its shirts, magnets, and other paraphernalia, has caught people's attention, owning a piece of the Rock has attracted international interest. As interest has increased, so has the focus on educational messages about Alcatraz.

"We had the local stories, and we focused on this as historic preservation and sustainability," said Mathews. "But then the AP did a story, and the next day we had 120,000 hits to our website. And that led to Reuters and MSNBC stories. We really had to switch gears quickly to deal with all the attention. We've had 2,500 orders on the website for a piece of Alcatraz."

Mathews said the communications effort is being handled entirely by the conservancy's internal PR staff.

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