USS Olympia not coming to Port Royal, staying put in Philadelphia

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comOctober 6, 2013 

After three years of work, a bid by a local group to bring the USS Olympia, a 19th-century warship, to Port Royal has ended.

The Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia announced Wednesday it will no longer try to relocate the ship and will instead raise money to keep the historic vessel at the museum.

That was disappointing news to Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray. The ship could have drawn tourists and given the town a needed economic boost, he said.

"I was looking forward to it happening," he said. "... A lot of people would have come visit it, and it would have brought some traffic to Port Royal. And we could use more traffic."

The S.C. Olympia Committee, based in Port Royal, and the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation of California were the two remaining groups being considered to get the Olympia. Both sought to repair and preserve it, and to turn it into an educational and historical site.

However, both organizations failed to offer a "viable, long-term solution" for the ship, according to a museum news release.

The Olympia Committee planned to relocate the 120-year-old, 344-foot ship to a spot by 11th Street Dockside restaurant and the Port Royal Shrimp Docks, committee president Pete Richards has said. A portable, submersible dry dock would have been used to exhibit the ship while it was being repaired.

Attempts Wednesday to reach Richards for comment were unsuccessful.

Last summer, Richards said the group had found an anonymous donor willing to contribute $34 million to the effort.

Beaufort County administrator Gary Kubic said he appreciated the Olympia Committee and its president's efforts.

"What (Richards) has accomplished with an original idea and organizing a campaign of support locally is really amazing," Kubic said. "He has actually made a wonderful effort to preserve the Olympia and bring it down here, so he deserves a lot of credit for doing it as a volunteer group."

Launched in San Francisco in 1892, the Olympia was used by Commodore George Dewey to defeat a Spanish fleet in the Philippines in 1898 at the start of the Spanish-American War. It also served during World War I before it was decommissioned in 1922.

The ship needs about $10 million in repairs, according to the committee. The Olympia has not been dry-docked in 65 years, and its hull has deteriorated so much that the ship will sink in three years if not repaired, inspections have shown.

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