Financially strapped Patriots Point should cut loose as many as three of its four warships and focus its limited resources on the primary draw, the aircraft carrier Yorktown, Chairman John Hagerty said at a board meeting Tuesday.
"We have ships 25 years old and no structure in our funding to maintain them," Hagerty said. "That leads to some very difficult choices."
Over the past several months, the attraction's dire situation became increasingly clear: All four ships need repairs, and the Patriots Point Development Authority does not have the necessary money or any plan for how to get it.
Experts gave the destroyer Laffey, known in World War II as "The Ship that Would Not Die," a year before the hundreds of holes in the hull sink it. Hagerty pointed out that the Laffey Foundation contributed some $30,000 but that short-term costs exceed $300,000 and long-term needs extend into the millions.
"Can you imagine how we have blown our trust if she sinks?" Hagerty said.
Instead, he told the authority, "Pick what we can do and do it right. Don't ever be in this position again."
Other board members questioned the idea of turning a naval museum into a single-ship attraction, and the group decided to wait until its May meeting to take action.
Officials reviewed the status of each ship. The submarine Clamagore might eventually head to a land-side exhibit, while the cutter Ingham could move to the care of a Coast Guard group in Florida.
Hagerty hopes to focus resources on building an enclosure around the Yorktown, another deteriorating vessel. It carries onboard environmentally hazardous fuel, and also Patriots Point's crown jewel: the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum.
"I'm reading the writing on the wall, and I think we need to be realistic," Hagerty said. "I don't think we're going to have the ability to afford any more than Yorktown."
Patriots Point Operations Director Bob Howard said the authority faces three options with the Laffey. Turning it into an artificial reef proves cheapest. The agency also could complete the Laffey's renovation if the money becomes available, or it could make minimal repairs to stabilize the ship.
Howard said he is discussing the destroyer's repairs with five businesses, including two local companies, and her environmental threat with the state Department of Natural Resources, the Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
He said he should have an engineer's report on the ship by the end of next week.
The authority voted Tuesday to put out a request for professional services to develop a master plan for its waterfront property. The agency plans to pay the winning bidder $250,000 from its reserves.
Hagerty said state and federal repair money will never materialize as long as Patriots Point lacks a clearly defined, long-term plan. The attraction received a $20 million funding request from U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C., and a favorable reception from the state treasurer's office for potential emergency funding — but neither translates into immediate cash.
"We need to do this so badly now," Hagerty said. "We need to get the right number to the people who are going to fund us."