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South Jersey

Wednesday, October 16, 2002
To build on its success, `Big J' must stay fresh

Give potential visitors new things to see and do.

The Battleship New Jersey continues to have a future, but only if it changes with the times. Like any other museum, it's got to keep reinventing itself, bringing in new exhibits, staying fresh.

This has become more obvious after the "Big J's" first year in operation on the Camden waterfront.

Mind you, the battleship did very well this year. It drew about 225,000 visitors in its first 365 days - a very good showing, particularly considering that the U.S. economy has been sagging and the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001, caused problems for the museum's opening and somewhat muted its debut.

Around the country, other ship museums are reporting flat or declining attendance, but the "Big J" met its attendance projection and helped build the Camden waterfront as a tourist destination.

But you can rely on only a certain number of tourists. Now that the Home Port Alliance, which operates the museum, has gotten this many people to see the "Big J," it's got to get at least some of them to come back and see it again. For that, the museum must stay fresh.

A few ideas are buzzing around, many of which mainly emphasize marketing and expanding upon what the ship already offers: increasing the amount of sleeping accommodations for overnight programs, pushing for more school involvement, getting a larger sales force, opening the boiler rooms for public viewing, making more parking available and marketing the ship's use for private function.

These are all great ideas. But once you've gotten as many people as possible to see the ship, how do you get them to come back?

In the long run, the Battleship New Jersey Memorial and Museum has to have changing exhibits. The "Big J" can be an exposition not only of its own history, but also of all American warfare in the latter half of the 20th century. It' s a great forum for speakers, photo exhibits, films and traveling artifacts.

Add these suggestions to all the others that have been proposed. And even then, the museum won't be done. It'll never be done. It has to keep changing what it offers - like a movie theater that wants to stay in business, or a city that wants to stay alive or a battleship that enters the next, new battle.


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