STAR-BULLETIN / 2001
Visitors look at the display of plaques at the Arizona Memorial Visitors Center. A renovated and expanded visitors center is scheduled to open on Dec. 7, 2009.
Arizona center refocuses
A visitors center will serve as a reflective entry to attractions around Pearl Harbor
The National Park Service is solidifying plans for a $36 million face lift and expansion of the USS Arizona Visitors Center aimed at a less congested, "more reflective" experience for Oahu's top tourism site.
After renovations, only the theater buildings will remain from the current visitors center, completed in 1980 on filled land and slowly sinking and cracking.
The new visitors center, scheduled to open on Dec. 7, 2009, will serve as a "gateway" not just to the USS Arizona, but to the battleship Missouri, Bowfin submarine and the new Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island, said Frank Hays, Pacific area director for the park service.
"The larger site will allow people to spread out and provide a more reflective experience," Hays said last week.
He said the new facility will easily accommodate the current summertime peak of about 4,500 daily visitors, about double the original center's intended capacity.
After some yet-to-be-resolved "minor tweaks," the final design and environmental assessment for the project should be out in the next few weeks, said Hays. The park service on May 1 will assume control of 6.5 adjacent acres under Navy ownership and occupied by vendors, who will be displaced, and some parking stalls.
Requests for bids should be issued this summer, with groundbreaking in the fall, Hays said. New construction mauka of the current center will include open-air pavilions with historical exhibits of photos, maps, models, memorabilia, media and artifacts from the years leading up to and including World War II. The center's driving event will remain the Japanese attack of Dec. 7, 1941, and the sinking of the battleship Arizona, which serves as a memorial to the fallen.
But the displays will aim to put the attack into a broader geopolitical context, said Hays. The topics include Japanese expansionism; American isolationism in the 1930s; life in multicultural, prewar Hawaii; post-attack "Fortress Hawaii"; and the salvage of the fleet.
The new buildings, connected by walkways and open to the tradewinds, will stretch between the current visitors center and the Bowfin Museum. Ticketing, security and a welcome desk will surround a central Aloha Court.
"It's designed to funnel air through shaded areas to keep people comfortable," said Hays. "We're trying to maximize the use of shade and breezes."
The theaters, due to be refurbished, will be the only air-conditioned buildings.
From the theaters, visitors may proceed to the landing for a ferry trip out to the memorial, resting across the sunken hulk of the Arizona.
But the center will also help orient interested visitors to the other major Pearl Harbor attractions.
"Right now, it's kind of confusing for visitors to figure out how to get to the Missouri or the Pacific Aviation Museum, and this will eliminate some of that confusion," said Hays.
Because of its expanded scope and rising construction costs, the project now carries a price tag of $52 million, which includes planning, development and an endowment. Hays said pilings will be driven deep into the subsoil to avoid the fate suffered by the current center, which has settled 30 inches in some areas.
The current center's architects anticipated some sinking -- 18 inches -- and incorporated mechanisms to raise the structure, which has occurred four times. The park service ultimately concluded the center needed to be replaced and in 2000 launched a fundraising drive in conjunction with the Arizona Memorial Museum Association.
The Arizona Memorial remains one of the state's top tourist attractions, with more than 1.5 million visitors a year, comparable to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala National Park.