21, 1998 |
officials OK $1M for ship
By JEFF BEACH
- 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
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
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
'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.