By: Mike Mendenhall
VyStar Credit Union has agreed to provide the primary financing in the nonprofit Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association Inc.’s effort to bring a warship Downtown.
JHNSA President Daniel Bean and Vice President Justin D. Weakland said Oct. 5 the organization secured a $1 million credit line to relocate the USS Orleck DD-886 Naval Museum from Lake Charles, Louisiana, to the St. Johns River.
Bean said VyStar offered to support JHNSA with a $300,000 emergency removal fee required in a one-year development agreement for the project by the Downtown Investment Authority.
The money is required as part of the agreement to remove the ship if it’s damaged or the museum experiences financial hardship.
“VyStar’s support is a huge fix for us. The ship is much cheaper than the (USS) Adams, so that’s relieved us from some financial burden,” Bean said. “That’s a lot of money to have to set aside. I don’t think there are a lot of business partners with the city that have to provide that type of protection.”
Bean said in January that the nonprofit kept the $1 million grant from the state of Florida. At the time, JHNSA was negotiating with donors and supporters to re-establish a $900,000 line of credit and $800,000 from personal loan guarantors to fund towing the USS Orleck.
The association expects to spend $2.65 million to move the ship and operations.
This is the second warship its has tried to bring Downtown since 2018.
JHNSA spent years trying to bring the 437-foot USS Charles F. Adams to Jacksonville. It secured $2.8 million through donations, private capital, bank loans and state grants to refurbish the ship and move it Downtown.
The U.S. Navy decided not to donate the Adams and instead salvage the ship.
VyStar’s financing commitment comes as the JHNSA applied for preliminary design approval from the Downtown Development Review Board for the Orleck’s temporary guest services building near Pier No. 1 where the Orleck will dock near the Berkman Plaza II building.
The DDRB will consider the design Oct. 8.
The one-story, prefabricated structure is designed to move, Weakland said.
According to the DDRB staff review, it will be on the western edge of the city-owned Shipyards property.
The site improvements will have the guest services area with restrooms, access walkways to the ship and additional landscaping, the packet states. DDRB staff recommends that the board approve the conceptual design.
The DIA requested the building be temporary but designed with a higher-end look.
“That’s kind of evidence that DIA might have further plans in that area of the shipyards,” Weakland said. “Our location hugs into the riverwalk.”
Moving the Orleck also has faced setbacks. Dean and Weakland said the Orleck “busted loose from its berth” from 135 mph winds caused by Hurricane Laura in August.
“As we like to say, the Orleck got underway,” Bean said. “She sailed without help a mile up the river. It was upright, it was not listing, it did not take on any water. It did get some bruising that the surveyors are reviewing right now.”
Bean said the storm damaged several other ships in the area that are now considered a higher priority at the dry-dock inspection in Port Arthur, Texas. This moved the Orleck’s inspection and release to December.
The Orleck will require a six-to-eight week inspection in dry dock before it sails to Jacksonville
The nonprofit planned to get the Orleck into dry-dock inspection in March, but the timeline was delayed as the facility shut down operations in response to COVID-19.
The USS Orleck has been a working museum in Lake Charles for 10 years.
It is named after Lt. Joe Orleck and launched May 12, 1945. Its primary service during the Vietnam War was in the 7th Fleet in the Pacific.
If the nonprofit meets the terms, the resolution gives DIA staff the authority to negotiate a 10-year licensing agreement to dock the museum warship in the St. Johns River with two five-year renewal options.
This could make the Orleck a Downtown attraction for 20 years.
The development agreement still must be approved by City Council before the ship docks Downtown and the supporting facility is built. Legislation supporting the agreement has not been filed by the DIA.
JHNSA is promoting a riverfront veterans park it proposed at the Shipyards. The group wants to move the Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Wall from the parking lot at TIAA Bank Field to the waterfront.
“We’ve always believed that and that a warship should be a part of any veterans park,” Bean said. “We think that makes sense and the best use of land there. While the pier next to the Berkman II will probably be its temporary spot, we hope to have support for a permanent veterans park so we don’t have to worry about a developer coming in and moving us at some point.”