A port in Northern California is getting a sneak preview of what San Pedro hopes will become a home-port tourist magnet in 2012.
The USS Iowa, a historic World War II battleship, is drawing hundreds of tourists already in Richmond, where the vessel's exterior is undergoing refurbishment.
More than 1,000 people showed up Dec. 10-11 when the ship was opened for limited weekend tours for the first time, said Robert Kent, president of the Pacific Battleship Center, the nonprofit organization that received the ship donation from the Navy last year.
Despite some "hiccups" on the leasing negotiations with the Port of Los Angeles, Kent said it appears the ship will arrive in San Pedro sometime from February to April.
The timing of the final tow south is "completely weather- dependent," Kent said. There are still details to be worked out with the Port of Los Angeles regarding the ship's lease.
If all goes as planned, local tours could begin as early as June 20 in a "soft" opening, with the grand opening still slated for July Fourth.
In Richmond, work is proceeding quickly to paint and preserve the ship's exterior, Kent said.
The idea is to get the ship's exterior, including the mast, refurbished before it comes to San Pedro.
"She's going to come down looking fit and trim," Kent told a San Pedro Chamber of Commerce committee last week.
Work on the interior will be ongoing, with new areas opened for tours
Once it's towed south, the ship will remain anchored six miles off the coast near Long Beach while workers clean the hull, an operation expected to take about a week.
A celebration will be scheduled to bring the ship up the Main Channel in the Port of Los Angeles, with the vessel carrying 1,000 to 1,500 invited guests onboard.
The governor of Iowa is among those who plan to be on hand for the festivities, which could also include ship escorts by the Los Angeles Tall Ships and the SS Lane Victory.
Iowa residents will receive special courtesies.
"Anyone with an Iowa driver's license will get a general tour for no charge," Kent said.
It is still unclear where the Iowa will initially be berthed, but its permanent home has been designated as Berth 87, just north of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum and the fireboat station.
Fundraising is ramping up on the project as well, with about $1 million already invested in the ship by the Pacific Battleship Center.
A $3 million grant from the state of Iowa is expected to be in hand by the end of this year and a $5 million bank loan is in the works.
Tours will feature an interactive experience, with part-time actors who will demonstrate Navy life.
The ship, nicknamed "The Big Stick," served from the 1940s through the 1980s before it was decommissioned.
The Pacific Battleship Center is asking for $10 admission for adults ($5 for children 12 or older) and raised $15,000 in its first weekend.
The group also is selling holiday gift certificates that give the recipient "plank" ownership status on the Iowa project.