"At $7 a ticket, that would make us profitable in the first year," says Alan Uke. And that's after spending $10 to $12 million for the ship's relocation, pier-side improvements, and conversion to a museum. He believes the Midway will generate 50 full-time jobs and $50 million a year in economic benefits to the region. "This will be the first new major exhibit San Diego has had in 20 years," he says, "and the first major floating naval museum on the West Coast."
As for the $1 million maintenance budget, which Star of India's Ashley questions, Uke's project engineer Commander Pete Clayton says $1 million to $1.5 million is realistic, based on information obtained from other aircraft carrier museums. "Plus," adds Clayton, a 28-year, five-carrier veteran himself, "our ship is in much better condition than any of the others. In fact, it's practically new!"
Clayton says in 1986, just before the Cold War ended, the Midway underwent a multimillion-dollar refit in Japan, including 70 percent new plating below water. Now, with a cathodic protection system (use of electrical charges that progressively seal the hull in ever-thicker layers of calcium) in place, he's confident there will never be a need for expensive dry docking. "We've been told she's good for 100 years," he says.
And the fear that support will die out with the World War II vets? "This ship's planes shot down the first and last MiGs of the Vietnam War," says Uke. "It was the flagship for the battle fleet for the Gulf War. It'll take kids in their 20s dying out before you'd have that situation."
Uke insists the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum group is not just a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs. "We have big businessmen in town here [on the board] like Doug Myers, the director of the zoo," he says. "They know what it's going to cost. That's why the underwriters [the Solana Beach-based firm of Miller & Schroeder] are willing to write the [$7.5 million] bond for this thing without a guarantee from the city or the county, because they're confident enough in the business plan of the management group that they don't need a back-up financially. This has got a good location, it's a good ship, and San Diego is the right place to have this kind of thing. It's a tourist town with a big naval history and a large naval population. It's like trying to have a steak house in Kansas City. You really have to blow it for it not to work."
"Austin party of eight, your table's available," squawks the intercom at the crowded Fish Market. The restaurant stands out on stilts above the water. The sunset blazes red behind Point Loma. The old Navy lighthouse winks near the lights of CV63, the carrier USS Kittyhawk at North Island. Nearby tugboats send out white-teeth bow-waves as they scuttle towards an incoming freighter. You can see how Mr. De Anda must be loathe to give away an inch of his view. The Midway's deck will soar 55 feet up, 4 feet above the roof of Navy Pier's existing warehouse. But because the Midway will be parked this side of the pier, less than 50 yards from the restaurant, it'll loom a lot larger. Its smokestack will reach up 65 feet higher still. Its bow, extending 44 feet beyond the end of the 1000-foot pier, won't cut off the Fish Market's main view of Coronado, but it will be a mighty gray wall blocking the northern prospect. One of De Anda's partners recently offered the carrier group $250,000 to take their museum somewhere else in the bay, perhaps by the airport. They turned him down.
And you can understand that, too. The dark entrance to Navy Pier's old warehouse was where thousands of San Diegans shipped out to war. Those who survived came back to the same pier at war's end. What better final home for the Midway?
Uke says his group will pay $1 million to create a 360-slot parking lot on the Navy Pier after the Navy demolishes its warehouse - before Midway opens for business - so the Fish Market doesn't need to worry about parking spaces. As for the view block, he talks about dredging so the ship can haul in further, and ballasting so she'll sit ten feet lower in the water, but there's little he can do to give Mr. De Anda back his northern prospect.