Baytown Council wants to put forth a competitive effort to make Baytown the home of the Battleship Texas, but will first crunch the numbers.
In an effort to spur council support, both Jay Eshbach and former Mayor Calvin Mundinger expressed why Baytown — more specifically a place near Bayland Island — is ideal for the historic dreadnaught.
“This is an opportunity that may never come around again. You have an opportunity with the Battleship Texas to bring her here,” Mundinger told council. “She is a designated national historic landmark. It’s not easy to achieve that, and the opportunity to bring her to Baytown is incredible. We will not see this opportunity again.”
To move on the prospect, members of city council and city staff have tentatively set a meeting with the Battleship Texas Foundation for Friday to further discuss the prospect.
Although it may be a long shot, Mundinger believes Baytown could get the ship with a focused effort but expects fierce competition from other communities.
“To still a phrase from the naval vernacular, this would be a thing of ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’ because we can’t not try to do this,” he said. “It’s such a big deal we have to try.”
The Battleship Texas Foundation is currently preparing the ship to be towed from its berth near the San Jacinto Battle Ground to be repaired at a cost of $35 million.
From conversations Eshbach has had with Bruce Bramlett, executive director of the Battleship Texas Foundation, the Battleship Texas will not return to its current location in La Porte once repairs are made.
“The Battleship Texas Foundation, who has managed it for the last 70 years, has a tentative contract to lease it from Texas Parks and Wildlife for 99 years. Supposedly that will be signed in October,” Eshbach said. “And so the Battleship Texas Foundation will control where it goes when it comes back.”
With such a unique prospect of Baytown being the home the historic ship that fought in both World War I and World War II, several council members were enthusiastic about the project.
“I can’t imagine anything better than driving over the Fred Hartman Bridge with a welcome to Baytown sign and exit here to tour the Battleship Texas,” Councilman David Himsel said.
According to Eshbach, the battleship currently draws about 80,000 visitors a year from all over the world, which generates about $1.2 million in revenue. However, to maintain the ship in its current condition, it costs about $2 million.
But with a rough estimate of nearly 68,000 vehicles crossing the Fred Hartman Bridge per day, a Baytown population of over 80,000 and an estimated 400 restaurants in the city, along with Goose Creek CISD enrollment of over 23,000 and 6,400 at Lee College, the belief is that the number of visitors would drastically increase if the battleship was berthed at Bayland Island.
Eshbach cited a case study in 2016 that looked at the economic impact of moving the ship to Galveston, which indicated an increase in attendance to about 200,000 to 250,000.
“With an income of $3 million to $6 million coming from attendance they would be back in the black and would be able to do the maintenance they’ve been unable to do in last few years,” Eshbach said. “The economic study also says that $69 million to $156 million in income from food sales at restaurants would be generated each year if it went to Galveston.”
To dredge the area to dry dock the ship, Eshbach estimates it would cost $15 million.
“If the battleship were to move to the marina, all the traffic coming in or leaving Baytown on the Fred Hartman Bridge would have a spectacular view of the Battleship Texas, Bayland Park, the new 208-room hotel and the Houston Ship Channel, plus the San Jacinto Monument,” Jay Eshbach said.
Eshbach recommended the city form a group with department heads and council members to meet with the Battleship Texas Foundation and talk about what could be done to bring the battleship to Baytown.
“To be within the shadow of the San Jacinto Monument and to have the backdrop of the Fred Hartman, I think (Bayland Island) is an excellent and premiere site with the amount of traffic the Grand Parkway will generate,” Mayor Brandon Capetillo said. “I think we’re in a very good position as far as a location for the battleship.”