Congresswoman keeps alive dream of bringing pandas to NYC

Once endangered, now classified as vulnerable, the giant panda -- native to the mountain forests of central China -- is recognized as a symbol of luck in Chinese culture and elicits a certain fanatical reaction from many humans. Rep. Carolyn Maloney announced the latest plan in her crusade to bring two pandas from China for an extended stay here in New York City.

Now with the support of former AIG chief Hank Greenberg, Gristedes owner John Catsimatidis, and letters from the mayor, the governor, and the Chinese ambassador, Maloney has registered Panda NYC as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the goal of housing two pandas in New York by 2020. The group hopes to raise an initial investment of millions at a panda ball held at the Waldorf Wednesday evening.

Panda NYC hopes to build a large, expensive panda pavilion for two bears it hopes the Chinese might lend to the city in the future, and while its leaders admitted to some disagreements about the best location, they declined to disclose which parks or zoos they were considering.

Selling the bears as a tourist attraction and money maker, Maloney cited the pandas Mayor Koch brought to the Bronx Zoo for a couple of months and the millions of people who paid to see them 30 years ago.

And even if Panda NYC can raise the millions necessary to endow the pandas, it must also receive approval from the Chinese government, which has already lent pandas to four other American zoos, all of which have experienced an influx of crowds rabid to see a great panda bear in person.