Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Intrepid Heading Back to New York

NEW YORK - Almost two years after it was pried from the mud by a phalanx of tugboats and towed off to a shipyard for a $120 million restoration, the histoiric aircraft carrier Intrepid is returning home.

Freshly painted in naval "haze gray" fand once again shipshape from stem to stern, the fabled survivor of Pacific war battles and five kamikaze suicide attacks will be towed up New York Harbor and slotted into its familiar Hudson River berth on Thursday.

The floating military and space museum will reopen to the public on Nov. 8, with a large celebration on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. On the enclosed hanger deck, the museum will offer new exhibits and facilities for public events, along with visitor access to crew quarters and other spaces previously off-limits.

Racing the Clock to Bring Back the Intrepid

Published: May 21, 2008

Getting stuck in the mud on its first attempt to leave Manhattan was not the last or the least of the troubles that the aircraft carrier Intrepid has encountered in the past 18 months.

Damon Winter/The New York Times

The Intrepid houses a museum that was at risk of going out of business last year, as the costs of overhauling the carrier and rebuilding its home pier rose past $100 million, almost double the original estimate. More Photos »

A High-Priced Voyage Home The military museum the ship houses was at risk of going out of business last year, as the costs of overhauling the carrier and rebuilding its home pier spiraled past $100 million, almost double the original estimate, said Bill White, president of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. To keep the work going and to stay on schedule to reopen this fall, the museum’s directors borrowed against the museum’s $15 million endowment, a move they had promised never to make, Mr. White said.

“This museum and this whole project was in danger of shutting down,” Mr. White said. “If we hadn’t taken this drastic measure to use the endowment, which I consider sacred, for this purpose, there would be no more Intrepid — unless someone was willing to write a check for 15, 20 million bucks.”

Now, with an electronic timer on a pier on the West Side counting down the days to the Intrepid’s return, museum officials are still pleading for additional public and private financing to complete the renovations on time. On the schedule that the museum set, the ship is due to be towed back from Staten Island on Oct. 2 — 134 days from Tuesday — and to have its official reopening on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

For most of the past year, the 900-foot-long carrier has been the only warship moored at the Homeport on the north shore of Staten Island. But this week, it will have company when some active military ships sail in for Fleet Week, an event that revolved around the Intrepid until last year.

To bring the ship back in style, Mr. White has pressed the trustees of the foundation that runs the museum and other supporters to pitch in $10 million. He also has lobbied elected officials, including the city’s five borough presidents and Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, to add as much as $10 million to the $25 million they already had promised to the Intrepid project.

But he has failed to persuade Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to let the museum sell naming rights to the pier, now known simply as Pier 86, to a corporation, said John Gallagher, a spokesman for the mayor. The mayor is considering allowing the sale of sponsorship of the Intrepid’s visitor center, which sits at the edge of the pier, Mr. Gallagher said.

With the city budget being squeezed, city officials have not decided how much, if any, additional money they will provide.

“We are aware that the Intrepid has been facing financial challenges and that the renovation expenses are exceeding their original budget,” said Anthony Hogrebe, a spokesman for the Council. He added that the Council expected the ship to float back on time, with or without additional public money.

Moving the Intrepid became synonymous with futility in November 2006 when, with a clutch of elected officials standing by, a team of tugboats failed to budge the carrier from its mooring. City officials required the removal so that the pier could be rebuilt. After the Navy dredged out more of the muck, tugs towed the ship away for the first time in 25 years.

To prevent a repeat of that initial embarrassment, the Army Corps of Engineers plans to dig an extra-wide slot in the river bottom before the return, Mr. White said. In all, the cost of moving the ship out and back will total about $19 million, four times the original estimate, he said.

The main improvements to the ship’s exterior were completed a year ago, when it spent a few weeks in dry dock in Bayonne, N.J., en route to the Homeport. Workers at Bayonne Dry Dock and Repair patched up parts of the hull and repainted the entire ship.

But when the time came for the dry dock operator to collect nearly $5 million for its work, the city funds were not yet available. Officials of the Hudson River Park Trust, the state authority that is the Intrepid’s landlord and manages payments to the contractors, asked the museum to come up with some other money to tide the company over.

Mr. White said he scraped together $100,000 and hand-delivered a check to Bayonne. The trust later paid off the debt and repaid the Intrepid’s $100,000, according to Noreen Doyle, a vice president of the trust. Ms. Doyle said the tight schedule set by the Intrepid’s managers necessitated such unusual measures.

“The whole thing has been crunch time,” Ms. Doyle said. “It’s a very aggressive project schedule.” Rebuilding the pier also will cost much more than initially expected. Mr. White said the original estimate for the pier was about $38 million. But with the prices of essential materials like steel and cement having soared and various amenities having been added to the pier, the total cost will exceed $60 million, he said.

A High-Priced Voyage Home At a board meeting in March, the Hudson River Park Trust’s directors approved an increase of $620,000, or about 40 percent, on the amount to be paid to Skanska, the construction manager for Pier 86 to account for all of the changes to the pier rebuilding plan.

A few weeks ago, workers installed the first of two stair towers that visitors will climb to reach the Intrepid’s main decks. Eventually, the pier, which will offer free access to the public, will have trees, seating and, if the museum can arrange its retrieval, a Concorde supersonic jet.

Before the ship left, museum officials struck a deal to temporarily move the plane from a barge tied to the pier to a recreation complex in Brooklyn. The original operators of that complex, Aviator Sports, agreed to pay $15,000 a month to borrow the plane and promised to return it this fall. But the managers who took over last year did not inherit that obligation, and Mr. White said he did not know who would pay for its return, at an estimated cost of at least $250,000.

Another of the museum’s popular exhibitions, a decommissioned submarine that carried missiles with nuclear warheads, the Growler, produced an unpleasant surprise when it was towed to Brooklyn. The crew found holes in the sub’s hull, pushing the cost of repairing it past $1 million, Mr. White said.

Getting the museum ready to welcome paying visitors again will be another matter. Last week, moored next to a fire boat at the Homeport on Staten Island, the dark gray Intrepid looked more like an abandoned warehouse than a museum.

Weeds sprouted from its flight deck. The wooden surface of one its exterior elevators had been crushed by forklifts that hoisted equipment on and off the ship.

Inside its cavernous hangar deck stood several vintage warplanes and helicopters that had been restored, their wings and rotors shrouded in plastic wrap. The only sounds emanated from the machines four young men in face masks used to strip the top layer off the steel floor.

With less than five months remaining on the deadline clock, Mr. White and his staff are pushing an ambitious plan to revamp most of the ship’s interior. They have hired a design firm to reinstall the exhibitions in a more cohesive layout and open to the public sections of the ship where crewmen worked, slept and ate. The aim, said Susan Marenoff, the museum’s executive director, will be to emphasize “the humanity behind the hardware.”

Mr. White said he also hoped to repair a flight elevator that carried fighter planes to the top deck for takeoff so that museumgoers could ride it. He said that executives of Otis Elevator Company had agreed to fix the giant platform and that the Disabled American Veterans had pledged to sponsor that part of the project. Dave Autry, a spokesman for the veterans group in Washington, said its charitable trust had recommended a grant of $450,000 for the repair.

“We can’t just slap a paint job” on the ship, Mr. White said. “We need to make a new museum. It’s got to come back brand-spanking new.”

Mr. White acknowledged that the museum probably would not be exactly shipshape when it returned. The last few weeks before the reopening will be a true scramble. Along with completing the interior redesign, the remaining tasks will include connecting the new power and plumbing lines from the pier. Crews will also have to adjust for the ship’s rising and falling with the Hudson River tides until the muck takes hold of it again.

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