Thursday, September 8, 2011

Los Angeles Awarded Battleship USS Iowa

The United States Navy has awarded the famed World War II battleship USS Iowa to a Southern California group that plans to exhibit the warship as a permanent museum and memorial at the Port of Los Angeles.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus made the announcement Wednesday, naming the Los Angeles-based non-profit Pacific Battleship Center (PCB) as the recipient of the battleship over a Bay Area group that was also contending for the honor. The Navy had been considering the fate of the vessel since November of last year, when both groups submitted applications seeking the donation.

"We want to thank the Secretary of the Navy, and the entire United States Navy, for the donation of the USS Iowa to the Pacific Battleship Center," PCB president Robert Kent said.

"With this award, the USS Iowa will become a permanent museum, memorial and educational center. We can now move forward with the work necessary to restore the ship and to bring her to the Port of Los Angeles."

The battleship, which remains in the Navy inventory in "on hold" status as part of a government program that donates vessels to museum groups, saw service in World War II, Korea, and served again as part of the United States Navy's "big stick" policy from 1984 to 1989. It is the last surviving battleship in the world that has not been permanently placed as a floating museum.

The USS Iowa, now in long-term storage in Suisun Bay just east of San Francisco Bay, is set to be towed to Los Angeles near the end of the year.

Late last year, the governing board for the Port of Los Angeles approved supporting a plan by the PCB to acquire the battleship and ensconce the warship at the port as a floating museum.

Voting unanimously to support the PBC acquisition efforts, the port commission also approved the use of Berth 87 near the port's main cruise terminal as the future home for the battleship. The Los Angeles City Council had previously backed the PBC plan in September 2010.

The current Los Angeles plan calls for the battleship to be moored year-round at Berth 87, with portions of the vessel available to the public for guided tours, special events, and educational programs. Pending future funding, a second phase of the project may include an approximately 33,800-square foot, two-story landside Visitors Center that will include a museum and education center featuring historic artifacts, educational programs, and food concession areas; ticketing, gift shop, and restroom facilities.

An economic feasibility study conducted by outside consultant AECOM estimated that attendance to the USS Iowa at the Port of Los Angeles would range between a low of 137,000 visitors a year to a high of 236,000 visitors a year, with a median of roughly 190,000 visitors a year from 2014 on. The analysis estimated that Southern California residents would make up roughly two-thirds of all visitors and the remaining third would be outside visitors.

However, the AECOM analysis estimated that even with these attendance numbers, the USS Iowa as an attraction would run a projected deficit of about $2.7 million a year. AECOM staff said this deficit would have to be addressed by other outside revenue such as fund raising, government support or philanthropic donations.

It is estimated that the start-up costs, including developing the site and restoring the vessel, would total just over $8.5 million during the first two years in Los Angeles.

In addition to a major fundraising effort set to start soon and which PCB hopes will raise $20 million, the state of Iowa has pledged $3 million to the restoration of the USS Iowa.

Depending on funding, the vessel could open to the public as early as 2012.