continued "Another concern we've had is that we do not believe that the funding for the Midway project is available or will be available in the future. In that kind of situation, this vessel will fall onto the backs of the public to pay for its upkeep. It is very expensive to keep those ships up. What will the cost be in one to five to ten years down the road?"
Chuck Nichols denies that the Aircraft Carrier Museum will ever have to rely on public money. For a while Nichols was a paid project manager for the museum project, but now, as a volunteer, he sits on its executive committee and acts as a coordinator with government agencies.
"We've probably got a better funding plan," says Nichols, "than any ship that's ever been donated to a private organization. And we have by far the best location to ensure our revenue stream. We have more maintenance dollars in our budget than any of the others, and yet I think we have a simpler problem, because the ship is much newer than the others that are out there, since this ship was refurbished in late '88 to become the Navy's principal platform in the Gulf War. A lot of these other aircraft carriers have teak decks, which have been on the ships since the early '40s, and those are maintenance nightmares, whereas we have steel decks. And San Diego is much less hard on a vessel than, say, the gulf at Corpus Christi or the Atlantic in the Northeast. The environment is much tougher on things in those places than it is here."
Nichols says that the source of the museum's funding so far has been private donations and guarantees of loans by private individuals. "In the future," he says, "it will be based on the revenue we generate from operating the museum. There will be an admission charge, there will be special events, and other things on the ship that will cost money, like food and beverage.
"When people come to the museum they'll be able to see restored aircraft from prior service back to the Korean War and even older. We have one of the most interesting exhibits of military history anywhere. It's 250 cases of memorabilia from John Paul Jones to the present day. That's been donated to us. It's a marvelous exhibit called the Hovis collection. And we'll have a simulator that allows you to simulate landing on a carrier.
"The museum will be a tremendous tribute to the history of the Navy in San Diego. It will feature the history of naval aviation. Naval aviation from carriers started right here in San Diego. And this will be an education platform as well as an entertainment facility, because we're arranging with the schools to bring their kids through it. The kids will get a history lesson that includes the Midway and its place in the history of United States defense. We'll be showing people how crews go out for extended periods of time and live under difficult circumstances, lonely circumstances, being away from their families in our defense, and I think it's important that people come to grips with that now and then on a more realistic basis than they find in their newspaper. This will allow them to have a reality check and think about the sacrifices that are made to keep this country free."
But the Coastal Commission's Laura Hunter isn't buying it. "We're being sold a bill of goods," she says, "that the museum has all the money it needs to run on private donations forever. I'm very concerned that there's only X amount of dollars that can be invested in historic vessel maintenance. The Midway, the Star of India, the Berkeley, they all compete for a finite pot of public investment. Or maybe it's an environmental protection program. We don't know what tradeoffs we're going to be asked for. Some future project that has a lot of merit or an existing project that's been publicly funded might be sacrificed. What are we not going to have because our public monies go into the Midway?"