August 1, 1998 |
freeholders pledge $3.2 million
Brian Porco, Courier-Post
MESSAGE: Russ Homan of Cherry Hill cruises the Delaware in his
- South Jersey gave the Battleship New Jersey Commission more
to ponder than words and pomp Friday during a visit to view the
Waterfront here as a potential museum site for the USS New Jersey.
While commissioners were being treated like
celebrities, Camden County officials announced they will commit
$3.2 million to bring the battleship here. A berth on the Delaware
River would place the decorated ship near the Philadelphia Naval
Shipyard, where it was built and twice refurbished. Thousands
who worked on the ship lived in New Jersey.
Also Friday, the Delaware River Port Authority
promised to make a significant financial contribution in a get-the-ship
campaign whose theme has become "From Birthplace to Berthplace."
Hundreds of cheering boosters turned out on
a gray and dreary morning to greet commissioners at the Camden
Waterfront. Just as the boat pulled into shore after taking officials
on a tour, clouds parted and sunlight streamed onto the promenade.
The Camden Empowerment Zone has pledged $1
million of its federal dollars to berth the most decorated battleship
in U.S. history, provided the commission selects Camden. The
Navy also must approve the site chosen as home for the only U.S.
warship to serve in four wars - World War II, Korea, Vietnam
and the Persian Gulf.
Camden County Freeholder Pat Jones, whose
announcement of the county's $3.2 million contribution drew applause
from the commissioners, said the money would come from a financial
arrangement with Camden County Improvement Authority. Jones is
co-chairman with state Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester, of
the Home Port Alliance, a coalition of government and private
agencies working to secure the battleship for South Jersey.
Camden has been competing with Bayonne and
Jersey City to become the permanent home of the ship, now anchored
in the naval reserve fleet in Washington state, but soon to be
released by Congress for donation as a museum.
"We put our all into this presentation
and we appreciate that you gave us the opportunity to show what
this area has to offer and the special passion people here have
for the ship," Matheussen told commissioners.
Later in the day, commission members said
they were impressed with the Waterfront and the financial commitment.
The four-hour visit highlighted not only the area's attractions,
but the Camden-Philadelphia shipbuilding tradition and ties many
area families have to the ship.
"I want to congratulate you on a good
job and fine planning. We have a tough decision and now you've
made the decision tougher," said the commission chairman,
Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth, who promised a decision
by the end of August.
During a river cruise, Azzolina and 11 other
commissioners viewed a proposed docking site for the USS New
Jersey between the Beckett Street Marine Terminal and the Blockbuster-Sony
They also visited the nearby Philadelphia
Naval Shipyard and ate lunch on the 11th floor of the port authority
building with a direct view of the Camden Waterfront and the
Philadelphia skyline and Penn's Landing across the river.
The commission received almost presidential
treatment. "Welcome Battleship Commission" signs greeted
them as they came into Camden. "Bring the Battleship Home"
signs were almost everywhere, including on the Walt Whitman Bridge
as they approached it on board the Liberty Belle cruise ship.
They were saluted by a Marine honor guard and bagpipers when
Tugboats, carefully spaced several hundred
feet apart, each carried several letters that together spelled
out "USS New Jersey" and occupied the approximate place
in the river where the ship would rest. A fireboat welcomed them
with an aerial spray as they sailed upriver from the Philadelphia
Naval Business Center, the former naval shipyard where they saw
the USS New Jersey's sister ship, the USS Iowa.
"This is my first visit and I am very
impressed. There's nothing like a visual presentation and they've
done a wonderful job. We'll be keeping an open mind in considering
what you have to offer," commission member Gloria Patrizio
said as she got her first glimpse of the Waterfront.
To better showcase the land view of the battleship,
South Jersey Port Corp. Executive Director Joe Balzano said,
it would be docked at an angle with the stern closer to the dock
and the bow skewed toward the west.
He put the cost of preparing a berth at $3
million, which would include $1 million for installation of four
pilings, a walkway to the ship and for insurance. While the channel
is deep enough for the New Jersey, any dredging needed would
be done under an existing arrangement between the South Jersey
Port Corp. and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at no additional
cost, Balzano said.
"We could complete this by May 1, 1999,"
The site is also near Wiggins Waterfront Park,
a NJ Transit light rail station to be built by 2001 with direct
service to Trenton and an over-the-river aerial tramway expected
to be operational sometime after the year 2000. It is also adjacent
to the New Jersey State Aquarium and the future site of a museum
of recorded sound, a children's garden and a proposed minor league
The Aquarium attracts a half million visitors
Philadelphia attracts more than 3 million
visitors a year, a figure expected to triple with the addition
of a new family entertainment center on that side of the river.
"We're excited about things happening
on the Waterfront. If (Camden is) selected, this authority will
participate in a financial way, and I am authorized to say this
on behalf of the governor," said DRPA Vice Chairman Glen
Paulsen, whose father worked at the shipyard.
Assembly Speaker Jack Collins, R-Salem, whose
dad also worked at the shipyard, joined in the pitch for the
ship, saying the Delaware Valley is its real home.
Camden Mayor Milton Milan asked the commission
not to be misled by reports they may have heard about crime in
"We have millions of visitors on the
Waterfront and there has never been so much as one incident (there),
and crime is down 11 percent in the city," Milan told commissioners.
Joseph Dyer of Pennsville, the commission's
only South Jersey member, said, "The general consensus among
the commissioners was they were pleasantly surprised with what
they saw. And the (county) money didn't hurt one bit.
"The site in Camden seems to be better
than anywhere because the ship would be the most prominent, but
I will stay open-minded," Dyer said. "The Bayonne site
is not in the tourists' way and the metropolitan New York harbor
already has the (aircraft) carrier Intrepid as a maritime museum."
Commissioner Eugene Simko of Middletown, said
he was amazed at the renaissance of the Philadelphia-Camden Waterfront,
which he called a "really well-kept secret." He said
the presentation will make a decision more difficult, adding
that he anticipates "intense deliberation."
"We saw the enthusiasm of the Camden
area. It was impressive the way the ship would be displayed,"
added commissioner Stuart Chalkey.
Some commissioners expect to attend an updated
presentation next week by Jersey City officials at Liberty State
Park, but an exact date has not been set.