City officials and community leaders want to give the battleship USS Texas a new home in Baytown.
Jay Eshbach, who is helping spearhead the effort to bring the historic dreadnought to the city, and former Mayor Calvin Mundinger recently gave a presentation to city council to help garner support for their plan to bring the battleship to Baytown. Eshbach also met with Battleship Texas Foundation Chair Tony Gregory and Battleship Texas Foundation Executive Director Bruce Bramlett along with City Manager Rick Davis, and Councilman Bob Hoskins to discuss how Baytown could land the ship. The idea is to place it near Bayland Island, where a hotel/convention center is expected to be constructed.
Mike Wilson, who is also involved in the effort, was at the meeting as well.
“We are committed to putting together a (request for a proposal) response that will win the opportunity to bring the ship to Baytown,” Wilson said. “While the city, led by Rick Davis with 100% support of council, works on its numbers, possible offerings and such. Mr. Eshbach and I and a number of citizens are having discussions and meetings to put together a ground-level strategy that will include both citizen and corporate commitments of dollars and other support assets. We all believe that Baytown is absolutely the best home for the ship.”
Before the battleship can be located anywhere, it will have to be towed to a location for repairs. Texas legislators appropriated $35 million for repairs of the battleship in February. A contract was also made between Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Battleship Texas Foundation. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill in mid-June for the $35 million in repairs.
“In receiving the $35 million from the legislature, we have promised to not be back (asking for more money) for at least 20 or 30 years,” Bramlett said.
The ship had been towed to Galveston previously for repairs in 1988.
“We want to get her back in pristine condition and make her presentable to the public. We are taking bids on shipyards now,” Bramlett said.
Bramlett said the ship might be taken to a stateside site or to an international company, possibly in Veracruz, Mexico. He added it would take seven days to tow the battleship to Veracruz.
Gregory said while funds have been appropriated for operations, it has yet to be turned over.
“We are not quite ready,” Gregory said.
Gregory added it would take three to four months to prepare the ship for the trip. An antiquities permit is also pending.
Baytown is in the running for the battleship with Galveston. A citizen-led committee there has been formed. So far, Seawolf Park on Pelican Island and Pier 21 on Galveston’s harbor have been mentioned as favorites for the ship.
Bramlett has given thumbs down to the Seawolf Park idea, saying it would be worse than where it is now at the San Jacinto Battlegrounds, where it was first placed in 1948. He has also expressed concerns about the visitorship the ship might get in Galveston.
Within approximately 60 days, RFPs will go out to all parties who have requested the battleship be moved to their respective locations.
To move the ship, a dredging permit is required to remove the sediment surrounding it. A permit used in the 1980s has been renewed and is now good through 2024, Bramlett said. He added the ship’s water depth level is 28-feet.
Some of the short-term needs for the ship, which was commissioned in 1914 and saw action in World War I and II, include repairing water leaks, the rotten deck and the damaged hull.
The hull will be replaced up to the waterline, Bramlett said.
“Only 10 to 15% of the hull was repaired in the 1980s,” Bramlett said. “The rest of the hull has not been addressed in 70 years.”
Gregory added once replaced, the hull would last another 50 years.
Following repairs, the ship will be moored in the water wherever it ends up being placed. Dry-docking had been considered, but that is no longer an option. Bramlett said dry-docking the 106-year-old ship would be too expensive, costing about $100 million.
Once the repairs begin, it should take around eight months for hull replacement, deck replacement and paint.
Some of the main points the group focused on were visitorship for the old warship. Eshbach said the battleship draws about 80,000 visitors a year from all over the world and generates about $1.2 million in revenue. Maintaining the ship in its current condition costs about $2 million.
By having the battleship at Bayland Island, it would be visible to anyone crossing the Fred Hartman Bridge. There is hope this would bring in some more visitors than the ship currently does. Bramlett and Gregory said they are aiming for more like 200,000 to 300,000 visitors per year.
B.J. Simon, the associate executive director of the Baytown/West Chambers County Economic Development Foundation, was also at the meeting and said the vehicles passing over the bridge and the occupants that see the ship could be significant.
“About 8 to 10% of those passenger trips over the bridge get you there,” Simon said.
Simon said the battleship could bring economic value to Baytown.
“Among other things, the Pirates Bay Water Park, through its evolution, has entertained over 175,000 people on an annual basis,” he said. “On an integrated basis, the possibility of the people who are patronizing the water park and other community assets could include trips to the battleship. It is very plausible to make a competitive case to cite it based on attendance only. I think there are other revenue generation models that can complement the attendance.”
The proposal also needs to include new shore-side facilities, ample parking and pedestrian access to the gift shop.
“The promise we must keep is revenue generation,” Gregory said.
Bramlett said the most important decision they have to make is determining its final destination.
“Once she gets where she is going, she will not likely move again,” Bramlett said.