$950,000 awarded for battleship repairs
By CAROL COMEGNO
CAMDEN - Fulfilling a promise, the Camden Empowerment Zone Corp. granted $950,000 Monday night to the group bringing the battleship USS New Jersey to the Waterfront here as a memorial and museum.
The board of trustees unanimously fulfilled a 1998 pledge to give financial support to the battleship project if the Navy chose the Camden site over Bayonne. That decision came on Jan. 20.
The trustees awarded the funding to the Home Port Alliance with several conditions, including a seat on the alliance board. The trustees had given the alliance $50,000 in 1999 to help pay for consultants hired to prepare the alliance's successful 1,700-page application to the Navy.
"I think the battleship coming here is going to be the greatest boost to the Waterfront and make the Camden-Philadelphia Waterfront a national tourist attraction," said Dave Garrison, chairman of the trustees' economic development committee.
Board president Richard Cummings said it also will bring opportunities for other businesses with even more employment for city residents.
Mayor Milton Milan already is a member of both boards, but his alliance seat is not to be considered the empowerment board seat.
Other stipulations include board review of plans for the battleship renovation and museum, use of the money for construction rather than administrative costs as well as affirmative action and employment goals for construction jobs and the estimated 50 to 100 permanent jobs the battleship eventually would bring.
The alliance has proposed spending $12 million to $15 million to build a pier, repair the 58-year-old ship and construct a walkway highlighting various periods of its history.
The pier will be located behind the E-Centre and alongside the Beckett Street Terminal of the South Jersey Port Corp. The ship is temporarily moored in Philadelphia and is expected to open as a museum in the summer of 2001.
The Camden Empowerment Zone Corp. administers federal funding aimed at encouraging economic development of designated areas. One-fourth of Camden, or about two square miles, is part of the federal empowerment zone, including the Waterfront and all of downtown.
Employers receiving funding from the empowerment zone trustees are urged to hire 35 percent of their employees from the city with preference to those living in the empowerment zone, Garrison said.
"I am pleased they passed a resolution and grateful for the financial support," said retired Navy Capt. David McGuigan, president of the Home Port Alliance. "However, I do not have a full understanding of all the conditions, including employment, because we have not had a full discussion with the empowerment board about them. I look forward to meeting with them in the near future to discuss these points."
Empowerment zone trustee Frank Fulbrook spearheaded the effort two years ago to commit the money. The corporation was the first agency to offer financial support, which was followed by $3.2 million from the Camden County Improvement Authority.
"The Navy decision was fantastic and this is one of the best things I've ever been involved in as an economic development initiative," Fulbrook said afterward.
The state has set aside $6 million to repair the ship. Legislation is pending to increase that amount to $13.2 million.