Fresh off the visit of the LST 325 landing ship to Ingalls Harbor last week, a Decatur lawmaker said he’s exploring whether the city could have a retired Navy vessel permanently stationed here as a tourist attraction.
“I’ve had people looking for a boat for months now. It certainly would be a significant enhancement and tourist draw to get a military vessel permanently based on the river in Decatur,” Orr said.
The LST 325 is a decommissioned tank landing ship that served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and was involved in the Normandy landings on Omaha Beach on D-Day. LST stands for "landing ship, tank." It was decommissioned from the Navy in 1946, participated in arctic operations in the 1950s, and served in the Greek Navy from 1964 until 2000.
In 2000-2001, a crew with The USS LST Ship Memorial Inc. brought it on a 6,500-mile journey from the Greek island of Crete to Mobile and then eventually to its home port of Evansville, Indiana, on the Ohio River, where it draws about 10,000 visitors per year.
The LST 325 docked at Ingalls Harbor Aug. 29 and remained open for tours through Tuesday. It attracted 15,385 visitors during the six days it was open for tours in Decatur, according to Owen Chapman, a board member of the USS LST Ship Memorial who lives in Decatur.
When the LST 325 visited Decatur in 2014, 17,893 people toured the ship.
The LST 325 is 327 feet long by 50 feet wide and weighs 1,625 tons when empty.
“We’ve got to get a ship of some sort, but not that big. It was so impressive to see that ship in the river,” Orr said. “It could be a submarine or a PT boat or swift boat or Vietnam gun boat, something we can use as a tourism magnet. I’ve got a guy looking. There’s a way it can happen. We’re on a river connected to the ocean,” Orr said.
He said his idea is more a dream than a plan now. He hasn’t worked out funding issues, either for acquiring the vessel or building a docking facility, but he suspects some federal assistance would be possible.
“It’s been talked about for decades, but no time like the present,” Orr said. “Maybe in the Filipino Navy there’s an old U.S. ship.”
Decatur City Council President Paige Bibbee said she likes the idea.
“I’d want to know the cost of maintenance, what attendance we would need to expect to break even, but I think that’s a fantastic idea,” Bibbee said. “I love history. For something like that we’d have to look at the revenue and expense sides, but I’d love to have it. If we could make that work, it would be fantastic.”
The city council of Evansville, which has a population of about 119,000, last year approved a $2.8 million expenditure for a a new dock and visitors center so the LST 325 could be moved to its downtown.