|Supporters of the Battleship|
It isn’t every day that a national historic landmark looks for a new home.
The Battleship Texas Foundation has put out a request for proposals from municipalities interested in hosting the USS Texas. This is not your average battleship. Once dubbed the world’s greatest battleship, the dreadnought was commissioned in 1914 and served in both World War I and II. It achieved landmark status in 1976 and today is the only one of its kind in existence.
As a tourist attraction, however, the Texas has been struggling, which brings us to MuniLand and public finance.
The state of Texas plans to refurbish the ship, replacing its hull below the waterline along with other renovations. The state will provide $35 million for this but no more. Admission fees will have to cover future costs, which helps explain the foundation’s search for a new location.
"About 80,000 people a year visit the ship now, but it needs 250,000 to 300,000 to become self supporting," says Bruce Bramlett, executive director of the foundation. The location now is part of the problem—the Houston Ship Channel at San Jacinto Battlefield park, about 25 miles east of downtown Houston and, judging from photographs, surrounded by refineries and tank farms.
“The ship in its current location—it just doesn’t work,” Bramlett said.
The municipalities that wish to host the Texas will no doubt have to spend a bit of money. Bids are due on 10 April. The winner will need to set up facilities, such as parking and perhaps a visitors center, and then of course some sort of berth—the battleship is almost two football fields in length, has a draft of 28 feet, and is 107 feet at its widest point.
I have to think the winning municipality will borrow the money to construct these accommodations. The foundation is a nonprofit, so I wouldn’t also be surprised to see Battleship Texas bonds at some point. (The ship is expected to re-open for visitors in 2022.)
Getting more visitors doesn’t seem out of the question. The USS Lexington aircraft carrier, which opened in 1992 as a ship museum located in Corpus Christi, 200 miles down the coast, has 300,000 visitors a year and is entirely self supporting, according to executive director Steve Banta.
The battleship Texas is more than 100 years old, but its adventures in MuniLand are just beginning.
Update: 26 March 2020 from the Battleship Texas Foundation
The Texas Historical Commission (THC) has approved three permits enabling major work to begin on the relocation and restoration of the Battleship Texas.
In a special posted meeting conducted by teleconference, the THC’s executive committee took actions enabling the Battleship Texas Foundation to prepare the ship for relocation to a shipyard for restoration.
“We are grateful for the assistance and support we have received from the THC, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and all our partners and donors from across the state,” said Bruce Bramlett, the Battleship Texas Foundation’s chief operating officer and executive director. “We have a lot to do now, and we can’t wait to get started.”
The permits also authorize restoration work on the vessel’s hull and “blister” – twin compartments that helped protect it from torpedoes or other assaults – and projects involving the removal and restoration of large deck pieces, like cannons and searchlights. The 86th Texas Legislature approved funding to move and restore the Battleship Texas.