November 12, 1999
If Camden wins, Philadelphia has just as much to gain
By LYFORD M. MOORE
Philadelphia has more than a passing interest in the political tug-of-war between Camden and Bayonne over the final destination of the USS New Jersey.
If its neighbor across the Delaware River in Camden succeeds in snaring the battleship, Philadelphia stands to share in the spoils: economic stimulation of both cities' waterfronts, prestige and the presence of an educational resource.
"It would be another jewel in the crown the two waterfront cities are trying to put together," said Kevin Feeley, spokesman for Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, who was out of town. "Having it would be another reason for tourists to come to the New Jersey and Philadelphia waterfronts. It's something we clearly favor."
The Navy is expected to announce its decision by the end of January. The ship is to be used as a museum, no matter which city is declared the winner.
As the lobbying effort continues on each side of the Delaware River, thousands of Pennsylvanians took advantage of the Veterans Day holiday to catch the giant battleship being towed to its temporary home at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
From Market Square Memorial Park in Marcus Hook to Gov. Printz Park in Essington and Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia, large crowds lined the waterway to cheer America's most-decorated warship.
Among them were 73-year-old Navy veteran George DeChurch of Marlton, who said the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware promised to be less congested and that he was rooting for Camden to win the museum sweepstakes.
"I live near here, and the USS New Jersey was born close by in Philadelphia," he said, bundled in the same coat issued him by the Navy in 1943.
Andrew J. Wilbanks of Boothwyn, Pa., used the occasion to place roses at the foot of a memorial in Market Street Square Park honoring Delaware County's war dead in Vietnam.
"Of all my classmates who served in Vietnam, I'm the only one who made it back," the former soldier said.
Like Rendell, officials with the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor's Bureau and several congressmen with constituents in Philadelphia are hoping the Navy will tip its hat in Camden's direction.
Though no one would venture a guess as to how much revenue tourists might spend in Philadelphia and its suburbs if Camden gets the battleship, bureau Vice President Sam Rogers said it would more than justify the energy his group has been putting forth.
"We have a great interest in where the USS New Jersey is based and have written many letters to the Navy and anyone else in decision-making positions," he said.
"This is all part of the visitor puzzle we're putting together. Every piece that helps and enhances the product is good for the region - no matter where that product or attraction is placed in the region."
Also working behind the scenes has been U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady, D-Pa., whose congressional district includes most of the Philadelphia waterfront. As a member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, Brady said he has been working closely with fellow committee member Robert Andrews, D-N.J., in arguing Camden's case.
"I've written a letter or two and made a few phone calls and told Bobby I'd continue to follow his lead in whatever he asks," Brady said. "Having the New Jersey in Camden would be good for Philadelphia. I'm sure a lot of the people who spend time over there would come over to our waterfront, too."
Efforts such as those by the convention and visitor's bureau and Brady are invaluable, said Paul Barrett, president of a committee promoting the ship's return to the Camden waterfront.
"It's another link in the chain that will make all this possible," he said.
Manny Stamatakis, chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority, said the entire region would benefit by Camden's selection - not just South Jersey.
"The New Jersey would be another attraction that people would want to see," he said. "One of our objectives is to increase commerce on the river and the other is to increase development and tourism. We get about 2 million visitors a year and would like to see that number get up to 6 or 8 million. Having the New Jersey would help."