- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2009

NORFOLK | Norfolk officials have eagerly waited for the day when tourists could peer through the battleship Wisconsin’s berthing areas and traipse through the ship’s combat center.

Now, after years of negotiations and environmental reviews, the Navy finally granted ownership of the Wisconsin to the city.

Vice Adm. David Architzel signed the contract Monday, more than three years after the city asked for permission to maintain and run the Wisconsin as a tourist attraction.

The move will allow the city to begin spending $6.2 million that it set aside years ago to renovate the interior of the ship, which is moored next to the Nauticus maritime museum complex.

Visitors currently can tour limited portions of the Wisconsin’s deck. But by next spring, Nauticus director Hank Lynch said he expects to begin offering tours of parts of the ship’s interior. Within three years, he said, most of the ship’s interior will be open, including the combat information center, berthing areas and the barber and doughnut shops.

“We want to show people everything it took to take care of the 2,000 human beings on that ship,” he said.

But that will all come with a price. Beginning Saturday, anyone who wants to tour the ship’s deck will have to buy a ticket to enter Nauticus.

Admission to the Wisconsin is now free. On Saturday, it will cost an adult $10.95 to enter both attractions.

Nauticus draws about 200,000 paying customers a year; another 200,000 tour the Wisconsin for free.

Built in Philadelphia, the Wisconsin was commissioned in 1944 and saw action in the Pacific during World War II, where it earned five battle stars.

It was deactivated in 1948 and activated again in 1951 for the Korean War. It was decommissioned again in 1958, recommissioned in 1988 and was home-ported in Norfolk.

It participated in the Persian Gulf War in 1991 before being decommissioned for the final time later that year. The ship arrived at its current site Dec. 7, 2000, the 59th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

“This is the most powerful ship the Navy ever built,” Mr. Lynch said. “It’s not just an icon of the American Navy, it’s an icon of the American spirit.”

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