July 31, 1998 |
Bring battleship home
The USS New Jersey at sea in 1989.
The city's last and perhaps best chance to add the USS New Jersey,
the Navy's most-honored battleship, to its Waterfront attractions
Members of the New Jersey Battleship Commission,
who will recommend a permanent berthing site for the Navy vessel,
will inspect the Waterfront this morning. If they approve, the
almost 300-yard-long vessel could become a floating museum docked
near the Blockbuster-Sony Entertainment Centre.
"We're treating this as our big opportunity,"
said Keith Walker, a spokesman for Mayor Milton Milan. "We're
letting out all the stops."
In the balance is the addition of a Waterfront
attraction that could lead to the construction of a hotel, restaurants
and stores along the Waterfront - and jobs - said state Sen.
John Matheussen, R-Gloucester.
City officials said they have also received
significant support for a floating museum from Philadelphia officials,
including Mayor Ed Rendell. That could translate to a tourism
"It just absolutely belongs here. I believe
it in my heart," said Ruth Reynolds, 66, of the Audubon
Towers apartments in Audubon.
Reynolds has vivid childhood memories of all
the men fighting in World War II or building ships at the Philadelphia
Naval Shipyard, where the USS New Jersey was built from 1940
to 1942. That connection prompted Reynolds to collect 1,300 signatures
on petitions that ask the USS New Jersey be returned to the area.
"We're home," she said.
The ship's potential homecoming and the area's
shipbuilding history set Camden's bid for the ship apart from
its competitors - Bayonne and Jersey City.
To capitalize on the region's strengths, city,
county, state and Pennsylvania officials have loaded up a day
of visual and informative events for the commission members,
said Thomas Corcoran, president of the Cooper's Ferry Development
Association, which oversees Waterfront development.
When the commissioners arrive:
-- As many as nine tugboats are to anchor
in the Delaware River between the E-Centre and the Beckett Street
Marine Terminal, marking the ship's proposed berth.
-- Folks who built the battleship more than
50 years ago will meet with the commissioners.
-- Fire boats are expected to parade along
the river with water spouting from their hoses.
-- More than 1,000 project supporters are
expected to greet the commissioners at the Aquarium.
The commission is expected to recommend a
site to the Navy next month, officials said. Camden is opposed
by politically favored locations in North Jersey, with Bayonne
considered the front-runner.
Until recently, none of the commission's 13
members was from South Jersey. The commission's 14th member,
Joseph Dyer of Pennsville, was brought on in March.
But Battleship Commission Chairman Joseph
Azzolina, a Republican state assemblyman from Monmouth County,
has promised a fair review of the three cities.
"I know we're going to give North Jersey
(officials) a run for their money," said Joseph Balzano,
executive director of the South Jersey Port Corp. "I expect
that they'll be pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful harbor
that's in place here."
The commissioners are due to arrive at the
Delaware River Port Authority building on the Waterfront at 9:45
a.m. today. They will tour the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard
and the USS Iowa, docked there, according to a tentative itinerary.
They'll journey back to the Waterfront aboard
a tour boat. While under way, there will be a historical presentation,
an overview of shipbuilding and a Waterfront tour.
The final element of the package is a presentation
at the DRPA building that will focus on area tourism, Waterfront
access and development, and the city's ability to finance the
museum project, Balzano said.