NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Only 20 percent of the more than 4.3 million people who visit the Statue of Liberty yearly have the opportunity to enter the historic pedestal and visit the statue’s museum.

The new Statue of Liberty Museum will allow for universal access without restrictive security clearances, CBS2’s Alex Denis reported Tuesday.

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Sitting in the shadow of Lady Liberty, the museum opens to the public on Thursday.

CBS2 recently got a look inside the new Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island. It is scheduled to open on May 16. (Photo: CBS2)

“Everywhere you go in the world, anywhere you see something about the United States, you see the Statue of Liberty,” said Stephen Briganti, president and CEO of the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation.

The privately funded project — 26 months in the making — gives visitors another opportunity to explore history limited after Sept. 11, 2001.

“After 9/11, restrictions were placed on the number of people that could actually get into the Statue of Liberty,” Briganti said. “Because people couldn’t see it, we felt that they were missing something about the visit here.”

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That has changed thanks to the 26,000 square-foot museum on Liberty Island, that has three main spaces.

A film about the statue welcomes visitors. Beyond that, one can view artifacts, renderings, pictures, and even the statue’s original torch, which was water damaged and eventually removed. There’s also a digital station where visitors are encouraged to add their thoughts on what liberty means to them. Outside, the design includes the same granite that’s part of the statue’s pedestal, along with an elevated promenade.

“We really kind of thought of this almost as like we cut the ground of the park and lifted it up and below that is a museum you can experience and above that is this whole new landscape you can climb on,” project designer Cameron Ringness said.

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And while people are mostly familiar with the welcoming image to the harbor, those involved in the project hope museum goers leave with a personal connection to the mother of freedom.

“It means freedom to me. It means liberty. It means the country. It means what we did for it, and right now it means the world to me,” said Doug Phelps of Phelps Construction Group.

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Admission is included free with the price of the ferry ticket to Liberty Island.