The Tall Ship Elissa is one of Galveston’s most unique sights, and amid talks about the future of Port of Galveston and the museum of which the ship is a centerpiece, some officials are wondering whether more people should be able to see it.
The Galveston Historical Foundation, which owns the Elissa, has plans to renovate The Texas Seaport Museum, the building that stands next to the ship at its dock at Pier 22 and is included with the entry tickets to the ship.
The foundation wants to expand the museum building to add a gift shop and expand the entrance to the museum, said Dwayne Jones, the foundation’s executive director.
“We want to do an addition to it, to create a stronger, better, more inviting entrance to it,” Jones said. “It kind of gets lost now in the shuffle down there.”
The museum’s entrance is tucked between a restaurant on one side and the Pier 21 complex on the other. It’s been in the same location since the 1980s, Jones said.
The Elissa was built in 1877 and is one of the few tall ships of its age still sailing in the United State.
The historical foundation has a multi-million dollar grant to renovate the museum, he said. But before that can happen, the foundation needs the port’s consent to move forward with renovations, Jones said.
The foundation leases the space at Pier 22 from the port and has an agreement to be there for another 40 years.
While a formal proposal has yet to officially reach the Wharves Board of Trustees, some port officials have already signaled they’d possibly like to reconsider the Elissa’s role as an attraction as the port.
Last month, at a meeting of the Wharves Board of Trustees, Wharves Board Chairman Ted O’Rourke said that he’d like to see the Elissa be more easily viewable to people who are visiting the port, even if they’re not specifically paying to see the ship.
“The whole intent was to have that area be walkable,” O’Rourke said.
If the Elissa were more visible to passerby, it might draw more people to restaurants located nearby, O’Rourke suggested. More people at port restaurants are good for the port, because the port receives a small percentage of the sales from those businesses, O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke reiterated his stance in an interview last week.
When it’s docked at its home pier, the Elissa is mostly blocked from the view of passerby by buildings and gates. There’s few, if any, vantage points where a person can stand to get a picture in front of the ship.
That’s intentional, Jones said. The historical foundation views the Elissa as a revenue-generating attraction and as means of keeping the Elissa in working condition, he said.
“If you give it away, people don’t go aboard,” Jones said. “We have to earn everything we do here.”
About 45,000 people a year visit the Elissa, Jones said. It’s the foundation’s second-most visited attraction, after Bishop’s Palace, the historic Victorian-style mansion on Broadway.
Still, O’Rourke said he’d like the port to review its contract with the historical foundation to, as he put it, make sure the foundation is in compliance with the terms it agreed to when it last signed a lease with the port.
O’Rourke’s statements come as the port is in the midst of developing a new master plan. The master plan is expected to propose making some parts of the port — such as between the port’s cruise ship terminals and the Pier 21 area — more pedestrian friendly.
In an email, Port Director Rodger Rees said the port had already started some aspects of the existing facility, but it could be some time before either side proposes changes to the museum.
“There was a question from our board about the width and accessibility to the fire lane between the Seaport Museum and Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant,” Rees said. “The port’s staff and the fire marshal have reviewed the situation and determined that a final decision cannot be made until final documents are reviewed.”
Jones said that he hoped the renovations to the museum could be completed by 2020, but added that the foundation hadn’t yet spoken to the port about the master plan.
When the foundation presents a formal proposal to the port, it will be presented to the wharves board, Rees said.