Friday, November 16, 2007

Iowa A Step Closer To Vallejo Berth

Iowa A Step Closer To Vallejo Berth
By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen/Times-Herald, Vallejo

A verbal salvo from the U.S. Navy has brought a USS Iowa memorial and museum at Mare Island in Vallejo a giant step closer.

Mare Island is the only practical option for the mothballed battleship of World War II fame, according to the Navy, it was learned Thursday.

"The Navy has deemed our organization the only viable candidate, so the other parties are out of the running," said Merylin Wong of the Vallejo-based, nonprofit Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square. "We're very excited. We've survived the competitive bidding process."

San Francisco and Stockton also were competing to become the Iowa's permanent home, though only Stockton seemed to be seriously pursuing it. The bidding process, which included presenting the Navy details about logistics, funding, dredging, pier improvements and ship restoration, took about a year, though Wong's organization has been working toward bringing the Iowa to Vallejo for a decade, she said.

In a letter dated Oct. 31, Vice Admiral David Architzel wrote Wong that once evidence of firm financing has been received, the Navy will "further consider HSMPS' application for donation of ex-Iowa."

The letter was also sent to Rep. George Miller, D-Solano, who represents Vallejo, said spokesman Justin Hamilton.

"The Navy said it has made the determination that Vallejo is the best option," Hamilton said. "Congressman Miller would be very happy to have the Iowa in Vallejo. It's an important historic ship that played a major role in defending our country and it deserves a place of honor."

Miller lobbied hard to make Vallejo the top candidate, Hamilton said,

"A big, initial hurdle has been cleared," he said.

Nothing now stands in the way of bringing the Iowa to Vallejo except money, Wong said, adding that $15 million to $20 million must now be raised to realize the dream. Wong said some $3.5 million already has been spent trying to bring the historic ship to Mare Island. It has been in the Suisun Bay's mothball fleet for the past several years.

"We have national support for this, and now it depends on the will of the people, the public and the community to contribute," she said. "We now have this enormous opportunity to bring one of the Navy's greatest ships to berth at Mare Island as a visitors' attraction."

The Iowa was designated an FDR-commemorative site by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, she added.

"It's tied to his legacy, which makes it an even more compelling attraction," Wong said.

Mare Island's main landlord, Lennar Mare Island, backs bringing the Iowa to Vallejo, said spokesman Jason Keadjian.

"We have supported the efforts to locate the USS Iowa to Mare Island and continue to be supportive," he said. "We feel the ship has the potential to be a positive amenity and contribution to Mare Island's re-use."

Keadjian noted the obstacles still to overcome, like financing, but calls the latest development "a step in the right direction."

Now the focus turns to fundraising, Wong said.

"We're looking for contributions, donations, guarantees, loans or pledges," she said.

Contributions can be sent to Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square, P.O. Box 361, Vallejo, 94590.

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