A decision about whether the battleship USS Texas moves to Galveston could depend on finding a suitable berth for the large vessel.
More than a month ago, Texas legislators committed $35 million from the state’s $11 billion Economic Stabilization Fund to refurbish the battleship, which was commissioned during World War I, saw action during World War II and has been berthed as a museum near the San Jacinto Monument in La Porte for decades.
The Battleship Texas Foundation, which maintains the ship, said it plans to haul the Texas to a dry dock for the work and to find a new place to tie up when it’s done.
Galveston came up early in talks about where the Texas might go, and city and foundation officials have had one informational meeting about the possibility of berthing it on the island, but that resulted in an impasse, officials said.
While the city suggested docking the ship at Seawolf Park on Pelican Island, where the museum ships USS Cavalla and USS Stewart are, the foundation was more interested in a spot on Galveston Island, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.
“We offered up Seawolf Park,” Maxwell said. “We thought it was a good fit. They resoundingly told us they did not want to go to Seawolf Park. They wanted to be downtown.”
Bruce Bramlett, executive director of the foundation, confirmed that Seawolf Park was not an option.
“We’re not interested in Seawolf Park,” Bramlett said.
While nothing has been finalized, the foundation hopes for the move to happen by the end of the year, Bramlett said.
A final decision about where to put the ship after it has been restored will depend on where the foundation can raise enough money to pay for continued maintenance, Bramlett said.
“Having a location is one thing,” he said. “Having a location to get the kind of attendance we need is another.”
The legislative action that committed $35 million to the repairs of the battleship also ended commitments by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to care for the ship, meaning the foundation will soon have to rely on its own revenue for maintenance.
At its meeting with Galveston officials, the foundation said it hoped for a berth on the Galveston side of the ship channel, which is more readily accessible and closer to other attractions than Seawolf Park.
City officials are keen on the idea of Seawolf Park because it’s the site the Galveston Naval Museum and is one of the few places along the Galveston Ship Channel that the city controls and isn’t already being used by the Port of Galveston. Seawolf Park is owned by the city, and operated by the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.
So far, there haven’t been any serious discussions about putting the battleship on the Port of Galveston property, officials said.
The port hadn’t officially been contacted by the Battleship Texas Foundation about leasing space at the public docks, Director Rodger Rees said. Any such proposal would need to be weighed carefully by the Wharves Board of Trustees, he said.
“There are many factors to consider with input from community stakeholders before a decision could be made,” Rees said.
Among other things, the port would have to consider maritime traffic and environmental issues, he said.
It would also have to factor in the potential revenue loss of committing valuable, port-owned land to the project, Rees said.
For their part, officials with the Battleship Texas Foundation think putting the ship in Galveston would have a positive economic benefit for Galveston County, they said. An economic analysis prepared by the foundation in 2015 estimates hosting the USS Texas would have a $9.1 million economic benefit, and employ as many as 48 people.
But the study didn’t factor in the costs of repairing the ship, or of what a city would have to spend to prepare a site for the ship and the thousands of visitors the foundation predicts the attraction would draw.
While local officials say there’s been little motion toward bringing the ship to the island, there have been signs of growing public interest in the idea.
This week, a petition began circulating through social media pages, calling for the ship to be moved to the island.
The petition was started by Charles Wiley, a retired Galveston police chief.
As of Friday, the petition had a few dozens signatures, and Wiley said the discussion about a public display of support for the ship had been mostly limited to conversations at local coffee clubs.
The petition doesn’t call for much specific action however, and Wiley said there are a lot of considerations city leaders would need to contend with while choosing a place for the ship. He thought a solution could still present itself.
“Your mind can just run amok,” he said. “Galveston is an island. You can literally put it anywhere around the island.”