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Repairs, renovations underway to improve visitor experience
WILMINGTON — For Capt. Terry Bragg, the damage Hurricane Florence inflicted on the Battleship North Carolina’s visitors center represents a chance to re-shape .
“We’re going to use this opportunity to reinvent the battleship experience and make it more in-depth,” Bragg said, “because we have a huge collection and no place to put it.”
Despite $2.1 million in damage inflicted by the slow-moving September storm, the battleship remains open for business. Damage is almost entirely focused on exhibition space in the visitors center that formerly housed the auditorium, several video screens and a photo booth.
When the space is revamped, the 11-minute video that used to greet visitors will be cut into three parts and spread throughout the tour route. The former auditorium area will be used to display more of the battleship’s collection.
“When you come back in three or four months, the visitors center will be painted. There will be a new roof, new carpeting, new technologies, new display, the (water tour) boat will be running back and forth,” Bragg said.
Construction on the space is expected in early 2019, with Memorial Day set as the absolute latest day work could be finished.
No historic artifacts were impacted by Florence’s wrath, and the battleship itself only sustained some wet carpet during the storm.
Crossing the river
Florence struck after an 1,800-foot walkway and $7.5 million cofferdam had been built around the ship. The latter allows water levels to be lowered to allow $5 million in hull repairs.
After this year’s hurricane, Bragg said, he pushed the timeline on the hull repairs back so they start the day after hurricane season 2019.
As Bragg walked through the battleship this week, he moved around visitors and pointed out how gift shop supervisors had taken over a corner of the room for a temporary work space. In November 2017, the battleship had a record high with about 10,000 visitors — a number that dipped to about 7,700 a year later with the impacts of the storm still lingering.
“I don’t look at this as a reflection of the battleship,” Bragg said. “The tourists are not here. The hotels are full of contractors, so we’re doing well to pull what we’re pulling.”
The slow period has, however, has given battleship staff a chance to tweak the tour route and complete some lingering projects on the grounds. When Bragg walked out the front door of the visitors center, two construction workers could be seen working on a newly constructed dock.
When the state accepts the dock, possibly as soon as January, the $340,000 structure will become home to Capt. Doug Springer’s Bizzy Bee water taxi and also offer the only American Disabilities Act-approved kayak launch in the area.
“We are working to tie together Market Street, Pier 33, the Ballast Hotel and this side of the river,” Bragg said. “You’re a visitor, you’re a Marine here for a dinner staying down here, you can take a boat over.”
Another local historic site is in the process of recovering from its own storm damage.
At Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson, flood waters washed out a dam that provided a necessary road to the site. Winds also brought down trees and limbs throughout the site, and water caused significant mold in the site’s visitors center.
Originally, Jim McKee, Brunswick Town’s site manager, was hoping to have the visitors center opened by mid-January. That date will be pushed back as crews have not yet started the process of replacing the floors, putting ceiling panels back in place or replacing drywall that had to be ripped out.
Crews have, however, cleared and re-opened the site’s grounds.
“We’re here on-site,” McKee said, “so if people come, we can greet them, we can answer questions and all that stuff.”
Reporter Adam Wagner can be reached at Adam.Wagner@GateHouseMedia.com.