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South Jersey

Friday, July 31, 1998

Camden to commission:
Bring battleship home

Associated Press

ATTENTION: The USS New Jersey at sea in 1989.

Courier-Post staff

CAMDEN - The city's last and perhaps best chance to add the USS New Jersey, the Navy's most-honored battleship, to its Waterfront attractions arrives today.

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 boost.

"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.

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