Navy gains a ship; city loses a tourist draw
Late yesterday afternoon, to the strains of the ''Missouri Waltz,'' Navy tugs were scheduled to ease this city's biggest tourist attraction into Sinclair Inlet and away from its home for the past 29 years.
The attraction is the famed battleship USS Missouri; it's being towed to Long Beach Naval Shipyard for a two-year, $457 million refurbishing before returning to the fleet. The impact of the 2,000-pound shells fired from her 16-inch guns is legendary, but the economic impact of her departure on this city of 34,000 is less certain.
First open to visitors during the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, the ''Mighty Mo, '' where Japanese surrender documents were signed in 1945, has been this city's only drawing card for tourist dollars. Last year, almost a quarter of a million people, many from foreign countries, braved the sometimes capricious Pacific Northwest weather to wander on the teak decks of BB-63.
''I personally think it's a good idea to put it out and to use it,'' observed Tim Tweten, owner of the Sportsman Restaurant located near the Missouri's moorage.
But, he added, ''Take 240,000 people away from two blocks from my restaurant, and it will have an impact on my business. We serve a lot of people. I'm sure we'll miss it and the city of Bremerton will miss it.''
For just one month under three years, Anne Watkins ran a daily shuttle service from the downtown ferry terminal to the historic battleship. April 29, the last day visitors were allowed on the USS Missouri, she tranported a record 300 passengers.
But today, ''I'm out of business,'' she laments. ''The Missouri Shuttle Service no longer exists.''
So she has turned her attention to trying to find out if her two buses can be used for excursions to nearby cities. Meanwhile, Bremerton Mayor Morrie Dawkins and the Naval Ships Historical Museum, headed up by former city mayor Gene Nelson, are each boosting separate proposals on a replacement for the battleship.
Mayor Dawkins, who at first wanted to get a mothballed guided-missile cruiser moored on the city waterfront, has now turned his attention to getting one of two decommissioned diesel submarines. Since there are no docking facilities available - one reason the cruiser was scratched - he wants to anchor the sub offshore.
''We're trying to get a Navy whaleboat to take people out to the sub,'' he explained. ''After touring the sub, we'll take people on a tour of the backside of the shipyard which is an exciting place.''
The mayor says he hopes to have everything in place before the end of the summer.
The Naval Ships Historical Museum, on the other hand, is concentrating its efforts on the opposite end of town where the Missouri was moored. Its plan features an 11-point wish list that includes moving the mothballed aircraft carrier USS Hornet to the battleship's former berth and opening it up to visitors.
Mr. Nelson noted the carrier is an ideal replacement, since it was involved in the Apollo space missions and its World War II namesake launched the B-25s in Gen. Jimmy Doolittle's bombing raid over Tokyo. It's anchored nearby, at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
It could also serve a useful local purpose - the hangar deck could be available for large meetings. ''It could be used by a lot of local people, plus the fact we'd have something to promote as a small convention package,'' he points out.
Both Mr. Nelson and Mayor Dawkins are also seeking to acquire Building 50, the shipyard's original administration building. Built in 1896, the 10,000 -square-foot structure is a scaled-down replica of the White House in Washington , D.C. Both men would like to use the building as a museum.
So far, neither man has heard back from the Navy. Bruce Andrae, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard spokesman, said he didn't know what the Navy will decide, but thought it was ''highly unlikely the USS Hornet could be offered. It's a mothballed ship preserved for future use.''
As far as getting Building 50, that decision may only depend upon which organization comes up with the money to move it, said Mr. Andrae.
A third organization that is interested in finding a replacement for the Missouri is the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce. Originally, it had its own plan for a museum, but it has now given its support to Nelson.
Ralph Long, the chamber's executive director, said there won't be any conflict between it and Nelson's proposal. In fact, ''They'll conplement each other, with people traveling back and forth,'' he said.
Meanwhile, tourism officials here are enthusiastically telling all who ask that the county should not be removed from anyone's vacation itinerary just because the USS Missouri is gone.
''Tourism is alive and well and will continue to be,'' said bureau director Lexie Duea. ''We're a county loaded with A-No.-1 attractions. . . . There is life after the Missouri.''