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South Jersey

July 21, 1998

Camden officials OK $1M for ship

Courier-Post staff

CAMDEN - Sweetening the pot in a bid to lure the USS New Jersey battleship as a tourist attraction on the city's Waterfront, the Camden Empowerment Zone Corp. on Monday authorized contributing $1 million to prepare the ship's berth. City, county and state officials said they are seeking another $3 million in public and private contributions.

The $4 million is the estimate of an empowerment zone committee on the total cost to bring the battleship to Camden. It would be combined with $4 million already in a state fund that will go to whatever site is chosen for the ship.

The money is aimed at convincing the USS New Jersey Battleship Commission to choose Camden over two North Jersey sites - Bayonne and Jersey City - as the permanent home for the ship, which currently is mothballed in Washington state.

'This vote tonight was very important, because it shows the Battleship Commission that the community is behind this,' Mayor Milton Milan said.

The board voted unanimously to make the $1 million contribution, but not without lengthy discussion of the pros and cons.

Trustee Jose De Jesus Jr. questioned whether the city had a comprehensive plan to expand the economic benefits of hosting the ship beyond the Waterfront.

'The concept of the ship, how does that help the residents?' De Jesus asked. 'It's the entire center city area that we have to look at.'

Milan, Camden County Freeholder Patricia Jones and state Sen. John Matheussen stressed that the battleship, combined with the New Jersey State Aquarium and Blockbuster-Sony Entertainment Centre, would create an overnight destination that would spark construction of a hotel, restaurants and stores.

According to Bryan K. Finney, the empowerment zone's managing director, turning the battleship into a floating museum could increase the number of visitors to Camden's Waterfront, which stands at roughly 1.2 million per year.

Even if no new tourists were drawn by the ship, Finney estimated, about half of those already visiting would go there.

'At $2 per person, we are looking at revenues of $1.2 million,' Finney said in a memo to the empowerment zone's Board of Trustees.

A few months back, Camden was given little chance of landing the ship, which seemed destined for one of the two North Jersey sites, with Bayonne seemingly leading the hunt. But an aggressive campaign by city, county and state officials from the area has led to renewed consideration by the Battleship Commission and renewed optimism from those rooting for a berth in Camden.

Commission members will visit the city on July 31, and officials are planning to wow the visitors with a hush-hush program built around the dual waterfronts of Camden and Philadelphia.

'Three months ago, Camden had not a prayer, not a hope, nothing. It was over,' Jones said.

Jersey City, however, faces many problems in getting the Battleship Commission's nod, the biggest of which is the dredging needed to make the berth deep enough. Bayonne, meanwhile, wants to berth the ship at a military depot, with little else near it to draw tourists.

Supporters of bringing the ship to Camden are quick to point out that its origins are on the Delaware River. It was constructed at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard from 1940 to 1942 and was launched from there roughly one year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

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