Plans are afoot to build a major maritime museum in Dallas. You heard right.
The $80 million Dallas Maritime Museum will be on a 3.5-acre site near the Trinity River, but more than 250 miles from the nearest body of salt water. Plans will be officially announced Friday morning by Mayor Mike Rawlings and members of a foundation formed to create the new facility.
The USS Dallas, a 362-foot nuclear-powered submarine, will be displayed next to the museum building. The submarine is scheduled for decommissioning in 2014.
“Dallas is a city of big ideas, and this is just one more example,” said Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is backing the idea. “Lots of people are excited about this.”
One big idea is to acquire and display the 362-foot nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Dallas next to a 30,000-square-foot museum building. Foundation officials said naval authorities have approved the transfer once the vessel is removed from active duty.
The submarine is scheduled for decommissioning in 2014. It would be another 21/2 years before the vessel is ready for public display.
“By that time we want to have the museum ready,” said John Shellene, the foundation’s executive director. “We’re in the early stage of the fundraising process.”
Shellene said the money will largely come from private sources, though he said backers may apply to the city for additional funding.
Museum plans call for two other major acquisitions besides the submarine. Shellene declined to elaborate, other than to say that one of the exhibits “would excite people not just on the national, but the international, level.”
Rollie Stevens, a retired Navy captain who is the foundation’s president, said the idea was launched in 2009 after he and other local military supporters became aware that the USS Dallas was scheduled to leave active duty.
The idea was also conceived as a way to create an attraction in southern Dallas along the Trinity River Corridor, he said. The foundation has acquired land on Riverfront Boulevard in the Rock Island area for the project.
“We look upon its purpose as education, but also as a living memorial to the contributions North Texas has made to the Navy, the Coast Guard and the merchant marine,” he said.
While the city is not usually regarded as a major seaport, Dallas is still a logical place for a maritime museum, he said.
“It’s important to know that North Texas is the No. 1 recruiting area in the country for the Navy,” he said. “Last year in the Veterans Day parade, the Navy had 100 new recruits, as big as the Army.”
Jones, too, believes North Texas’ strong military tradition makes the museum a logical step. The facility would draw national tours specializing in retirees and military veterans, he said.
“This gives Dallas a good balance of attractions. It’s a needed addition in South Dallas,” Jones said.
The Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm ConsultEcon, commissioned by the foundation to study the feasibility of the museum, did not estimate the number of visitors the facility might attract. Its executive summary concluded, however, the Dallas Maritime Museum “has the potential to be one of the strongest tourist attractions in the city and the state.”
Stevens said visitors would be able to walk through the three levels inside the submarine. Though other cities have submarines, he said, Dallas would be the only place a nuclear-powered attack submarine could be viewed entirely out of water.
The USS Dallas has been part of the American naval defense for 32 years. There has been a lack of major sea battles during that time, but the USS Dallas achieved a kind of notoriety, if only a fictional one, by being a major component of the Tom Clancy thriller The Hunt for Red October.
Its journey to the city after which it is named may be its most epic journey.
After decommissioning ceremonies in Connecticut, the submarine will be towed along the Atlantic seaboard, through the Panama Canal and up the Pacific Coast to Puget Sound, Stevens said.
There the nuclear reactor and other classified components will be removed. The stripped-down vessel will then be towed back through Panama to Houston. The vessel, which is longer than a football field, will be dismantled, and its parts hauled to Dallas on the backs of trucks.
Once here, it will be reassembled.
“It will take a lot of planning,” Shellene said. “But it can be done.”
Description: Los Angeles-class, nuclear-powered, fast attack submarine
Length: 362 feet
Beam: 33 feet
Speed: Greater than 25 knots
Dead weight: 375 long tons, which are each 2,240 pounds
Commissioned: July 18, 1981
Homeport: Groton, Conn.
History: The USS Dallas was the first U.S. Navy ship to be named for the Texas city. It was initially attached to Submarine Development Squadron 12 in New London, Conn., and was used for research and development projects. In 1988, it became a member of Submarine Squadron 2 in New London. It has had one Indian Ocean deployment, three Mediterranean deployments and seven North Atlantic deployments.
SOURCES: U.S. Naval Vessel Register; U.S. Navy websites