Group advances in competition, wants more time to raise money to relocate battleship

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comNovember 11, 2011 

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A group of Beaufort-area residents hoping to relocate a famed-but-deteriorated 19th century steel warship has made it to the next round of the selection process but says it needs more time to raise money for the multi-million dollar project.

The S.C. Olympia Committee submitted a 37-page proposal in September to the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia outlining its plans to move the USS Olympia from the Delaware River to a dry dock it hopes to build on Parris Island.

Museum officials announced Thursday the group was among four others selected to submit more detailed plans by May for the 344-foot steel cruiser. The other finalists were based in Vallejo, Calif., Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, according to The Associated Press.

Six organizations submitted proposals, the AP reported.

Pete Richards, one of the local committee's leaders, said the group will ask for an extension to begin tackling the project's toughest task -- fundraising.

"We are going to have to have an engineering study done, a study on the dry dock, a marketing study, and we have to raise the money to pay for all of that, so we're hoping to extend the deadline through all of 2012," Richards said. "We think everyone is in the same boat we are though. We may be the smallest area still in the running, but everyone is in the same position we're in."

The group also must raise at least $10 million to repair the aging vessel, which hasn't been dry-docked in 55 years.

Richards said the group wasn't surprised its application survived the initial cut.

"What helped make our case for Olympia is our story," Richards said. "The story is the ties this area has to the Spanish-American War, and the historic dry dock on Parris Island. We have a very unique story that helps make this project so special."

Launched in San Francisco in 1892, the Olympia is the world's oldest steel warship still afloat and was used by Commodore George Dewey to defeat a Spanish fleet in the Philippines in 1898 at the start of the Spanish-American War. The ship also was used in World War I before being decommissioned in 1922.

The group has said the ship belongs at Parris Island, once home to Naval Station Port Royal, a dry dock and coaling station used to repair and refuel battleships like the Olympia during the Spanish-American War.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/OnBaseBeaufort.

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