GALVESTON, Texas — Local interest in bringing the battleship Texas to Galveston is mounting as a citizen-led committee prepares to release a report outlining recommendations on where to berth the historic ship.
The Galveston County Daily News reports Seawolf Park on Pelican Island and Pier 21 on Galveston’s harbor have emerged as the top favorites, though there’s been no final decision about where the vessel might dock. And whether the World War I-era ship comes to the island at all depends on which Galveston site local officials agree upon and whether they agree at all.
The Texas Legislature earlier this year announced it would no longer fund maintenance for the ship after it pays $35 million to float it to a shipyard for repairs.
All future maintenance will have to be paid for with admission fees to the ship, and that means Texas, which now makes its home near the San Jacinto Battle Monument in La Porte, needs somewhere with higher visitation, said Bruce Bramlett, executive director of the Battleship Texas Foundation, which raises money for the ship and promotes it to visitors.
"It's not going to be Seawolf Park," Bramlett said. "That would be a worse location than what we're in."
Bramlett wants the ship in Galveston, but doesn’t think the park gets enough visitors to keep the battleship Texas financially afloat, he said.
The park attracts about 80,000 annually, park managers for the Galveston Park Board of Trustees said.
But with the battleship, that number likely would rise, Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau Chief Tourism Officer Michael Woody said.
"There will be expanded opportunities to drive leisure traffic to the park, host education programs, school field trips and large-scale corporate events," Woody said.
And Seawolf Park, which already home to a pair of museum ships — the a Gato-class submarine Cavalla and the Edsall-class destroyer escort Stewart — is the natural place for the battleship Texas, said Charles Wiley, a former Galveston police chief and organizer of the committee researching the ship’s future berth.
Although Pier 21, near cruise ship and downtown traffic, certainly has the numbers to support the ship’s financial needs, there are other challenges, Wiley said.
"The only problem with that site is it seems like it would be kind of crowded and there are parking issues," Wiley said.
The pier would pose some crowding challenges, Port of Galveston spokeswoman Cristina Galego agreed.
"The main challenge with having the ship at Pier 21 is that the berth is 510 feet long and the ship is about 560 feet long," Galego said.
More money would be required to invest in the berth to accommodate the battleship Texas, Galego said.
Beyond Seawolf Park and Pier 21, the committee is researching other sites, said Jonathan Hale, committee chairman and vice president at Gulf Copper, which repairs and refurbishes marine vessels and offshore rigs at its Pelican Island yard.
The committee is looking at other sites near the East End Flats, Galveston Yacht Basin and along the port, Hale said.
Bringing the ship to the island would be good for Galveston, but money is an issue, said Craig Brown, a city council member who is on the committee.
The city wouldn't have to pay for ship maintenance, but it might have to pay to prepare a site for the ship, Brown said.
But with budget constraints this year, officials will need more information before they'll know whether the city can foot the cost, Brown said.
The bottom line is that the ship will need to attract enough people to get the money it needs, said state Rep. Mayes Middleton, who represents Galveston and is part of the committee.
"The ship needs 300,000 visitors a year to be self-sustaining and Galveston has over 7 million tourists a year, so we could easily meet those numbers," Middleton said.
The committee expects to release its report and recommendations this month.