Next steps: Repair the battleship, build dock
Courtesy Home Port Alliance An artist's rendering shows how the USS New Jersey will be permanently docked at the Camden waterfront.
By CAROL COMEGNO
When the first visitors arrive at the USS New Jersey museum and veterans memorial in summer 2001, they will stroll along a riverfront walkway that takes them from World War II to the present.
Visitors will pass transparent walls bearing maps and illustrations, a free-standing battleship propeller, a gun turret and projectiles as they walk through seven connected plazas before boarding the USS New Jersey.
Some also will have a chance to spend a night on the ship - experiencing life aboard the war vessel.
The promenade, the plazas and the overnight stays are all part of a $13 million to $15 million plan to open the battleship USS New Jersey memorial museum here, now that the Navy has selected Camden as the final berth for one of its most revered veterans.
Capt. David McGuigan, president of the Home Port Alliance, whose application convinced the Navy to place the battleship in Camden rather than the front-running Bayonne, said his group now must repair the ship, construct a T-shaped pier, and build a visitors center and walkway - as well as focus on fund-raising efforts.
"We are hoping to open the ship in the summer of 2001," McGuigan said.
Among the reasons Camden was chosen over Bayonne, Navy officials said Thursday, were its historic ties to the ship and established waterfronts in Camden and Philadelphia.
Navy officials also were impressed with the comprehensive Home Port Alliance application because it contained a proposal for a detailed Navy recruiting office aboard the battleship - at no cost to the Navy.
"There are three principal aspects - ship restoration, shore and pier construction, and museum exhibits. We estimate the cost at $4 million to $5 million for each aspect," McGuigan said.
Once the ship opens as a floating museum and memorial to veterans, operating costs are estimated at more than $3.8 million the first year.
Ready sources of revenue for the restoration effort include $6 million from the state, $1.5 million from the state Department of Transportation, a $2 million loan from the state Economic Development Authority, $3.2 million from the Camden County Improvement Authority, and $1 million from the Camden Empowerment Zone Corp.
In addition, the state treasury has a special account for revenue generated by commemorative battleship license plates and income tax check-offs. Officials project the two combined will earn about $500,000 a year.
"The license plate and income tax money could rise or fall, depending upon the continuing interest of residents of the state in their namesake battleship," McGuigan said.
McGuigan said the complexity of the restoration and museum project, as well as the need for annual operating revenue, will require an intense fund-raising campaign.
"I want to emphasize there are sufficient funds to open the ship. But just as any nonprofit museum, we will be engaged in a major fund-raising campaign to sustain the ship for operation and future maintenance," he said.
The public will be welcomed at a visitors center on the Waterfront alongside the E-Centre. A 400-foot walkway enclosed by transparent walls will allow a view not only of the ship, but also of the Philadelphia skyline and waterfront across the Delaware River.
The journey to the battleship itself will be educational. The "Interpretive Walkway" will be lined with artifacts, photographs and exhibits focused on the USS New Jersey.
"The Interpretive Walkway is a series of linked plazas that depict the history of the New Jersey and its role in protecting America's freedom," said McGuigan, "tracing the battleship from 'birthplace to berthplace.' "
The ship's history will be traced beginning with its construction and launching on Dec. 7, 1942, at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
Each plaza along the walkway will house memorial plaques, maps, illustrations and exhibits - including a five-inch, .38-caliber battleship gun mount that once fired at both land and air targets.
Other exhibits along the walkway will detail the ship's maritime accomplishments during World War II in the Pacific Theater, as well as in Korea, Vietnam, and the Navy of the 1980s during the administration of President Reagan.
"Reagan's naval buildup created a new and expanded Navy that played an important role in winning the Cold War," McGuigan said. The New Jersey served off the coast of Beirut during the 1980s crisis there.
At the end of the walkway, visitors will encounter a ship-viewing plaza that also will house food services. The ship anchors the opposite end of the walkway from the visitors center.
Sea Scouts and school groups, for a fee, will be able to spend a night on the battleship in order to experience the way sailors lived, at least in part.
The ship itself will be presented in its 1980s configuration, with the more sophisticated fire control system and radar, Tomahawk cruise missiles, Harpoon missiles and a Phalanx close-in weapons system.
The ship will rest on an angled, T-shaped pier to be built several hundred feet into the river between the E-Centre and the South Jersey Port Corp., its bow facing upriver.
"Putting it out into the river away from a dockside pier will give the viewer a better appreciation of the lines, size and beauty of the ship," McGuigan said.
Initial plans call for at least part of the main deck and the first upper deck to be open to visitors.
The ship must undergo at least partial replacement of its teak decks, painting, and the removal of asbestos and other hazardous material. Partial redecking alone will cost several million dollars.