Missing the Boat (Literally)
Last summer, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors rejected a plan to permanently berth the battleship USS Iowa in their city. By an 8-3 vote, the supervisors decided against against taking in the ship, citing their opposition to the War in Iraq and military policies against gays in uniform, among other reasons.
Sean Hannity was in the City by the Bay a couple of days ago, following up on the Iowa controversy. You might have caught his debate (on radio and TV) with a San Francisco supervisor (Gerardo Sandoval), who expressed a desire to completely disband the U.S. military. Mr. Sandoval--clearly no student of history--opined that "standing armies" in the United States didn't appear on the scene until the 1950s. Sandoval might be interested to learn that the U.S. Army has been in continuous existence since 1775, and the Marine Corps since 1798, but his ill-informed thinking clearly illustrates the radical liberalism that dominates Bay Area politics. Remember: this is the city that pays the homeless a monthly stipend of $3-400, but won't provide a home for a ship that defended American liberty in four wars.
At last report, the Iowa appeared headed for Stockton, a port city located 80 miles up the river from San Francisco. Stockton has been enthusiastic about providing a home for the battleship, offering a dock on the San Joaquin River, a 90,000 square-foot building and parking area. City officials believe that the Iowa--as centerpiece for a historical park--could attract up to 125,000 visitors a year.
That estimate may be low, and Stockton--if it gets the ship--may have the last laugh. Across the country, decommissioned battleships have proved to be a popular tourist draw. The USS Alabama, on permanent display in Mobile, has attracted more than 11 million visitors over the past 40 years; statewide, the ship's presence has generated an estimated $270 million economic impact during the same period. Even in Massachusetts (perhaps the "bluest" of the blue states) the USS Massachusetts, centerpiece of a historic complex called Battleship Cove, has drawn over five million visitors who pay for admission, parking, souvenirs, food, lodging and gas, and stimulate the local economy in the process. Battleship displays in North Carolina, Texas and elsewhere are also popular tourist attractions.
More importantly, these ships are not a drain on local tax coffers; virtually all of the battleship parks operate as independent, not-for-profit enterprises. Money for operating and maintaining the ships (and other exhibits) is derived from private sources, including admission charges. Beyond its initial investment, the city of Stockton shouldn't have to spend another dime on the Iowa, while reaping millions of dollars in additional revenue each year from restaurant and lodging taxes.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco city supervisors can take pride in their principled stand, and find other ways to attract more tourists to their city. Turns out that the tourism sector has been weak in the Bay Area since 2000, and not all of it can be attributed to the travel drop after 9-11. That trend continued in 2005, according to USA Today, with demand for convention space declining, and a noticeable drop in foreign visitors as well. I guess the supervisors haven't heard that the USS Missouri and the remains of the USS Arizona are particularly popular among foreign tourists visiting Hawaii.