By Kathy Chouteau
Amid a $27 million budget deficit that’s been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Richmond is assessing possible budget balancing strategies put forth by its departments.
On the list of the Port of Richmond’s departmental proposals is charging the SS Red Oak Victory a berth rental fee, as confirmed by Mayor Tom Butt. The proposition puts the ship in jeopardy of losing its spot on the city’s waterfront.
The City’s current arrangement with the ship permits it to rent its berth free of charge, with a $137,000 annual credit from the City going to the Port of Richmond. Mayor Butt said the figure represents an estimation of the value of the berth rental.
“Nobody’s decided to [charge the ship rent], as far as I know there’s been no discussion among City Council members about it, it’s just sitting there on a list [of cost-saving measures] along with a lot of other things, some of which are feasible, some of which are not feasible,” said Mayor Butt.
He noted that the Richmond City Council just passed a resolution that commercial tenants can’t be evicted right now and called the whole proposal “pretty speculative.”
“So…I don’t think there’s a lot of substance there. But I think the Red Oak people are right to be concerned,” the mayor said.
In a written statement, representatives from the ship did indeed express their concern about a possible berth rental fee.
“The proposal before the Richmond City Council to charge rent to the Red Oak Victory or to replace the ship with a commercial lessee will force the ship to cease operations,” according to a statement by Red Oak Victory Marketing Director Fred Klink, Lynn Maack and Kim Abbott.
“If the Red Oak Victory is forced to leave Richmond, this cuts off an important asset to the City, to the community, to the Rosie the Riveter WW II Homefront National Historical Park and to the Rosie the Riveter Trust.”
In their joint statement, the group emphasized the ship is an educational resource, Richmond destination and a historical and cultural landmark.
The Red Oak Victory has the mayor in its court. Should the idea of charging the ship berth rental ever come before the City Council, Mayor Butt said he would “absolutely” vote against it.
On average, it costs $4,000 per month “to keep the Red Oak Victory tied to the pier,” per a recent email from the ship’s crew. To support the ship with a donation, click here. To learn more about the Red Oak Victory, located at 1337 Canal Blvd., Berth 5 in Richmond, click here.