Battle Over Historical Ship Continues at Special Meeting of City Council

Sean Pyles


Richmond City Council trudged through a discussion to determine the short and long-term destination of an historical warship during a special meeting Monday evening. The conversation reawakened a contentious disagreement among Councilmembers over the rightful place of the ship and the City’s approach to balancing business interests in the Port. 

The item in question was a reimbursement agreement* with the Richmond Museum of History to install utilities in Basins 1 and 5 in preparation for the move of SS Red Oak Victory — a WWII-era ship built in Richmond which now stands docked at the city’s port —in preparation for a move first to nearby Basin 1 before an eventual, more permanent move to Basin 5. 

The ship in its current location blocks the Bay view for Rigger’s Loft Winery, which is currently under construction.** 

Further complicating the issue is another tenant of the Port: Foss Maritime, a ship transport company that has held the location at Basin 5 for over 15 years.

The move of the ship to Basin 1 would unseat Foss, and it is this reshuffling of businesses in the Port which led some Councilmembers to accuse Mayor Tom Butt and City Manager Bill Lindsay of throwing their weight around to get what they want. 

“This could have been done with more professionalism,” chastised Councilmember Nat Bates. “We had two tenants, Kevin Brown with Riggers Loft Winery, and Foss. I don’t like the idea that the mayor seems to have made it difficult for them.”

In early July when the City Council last discussed the issue Mayor Butt fought to move the ship only to Basin 5. This location would be advantageous to visitors in the area, Butt argued at the time, because it would be closer to the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park.

Mayor Butt met with Foss and Brown on a number of occasions to hammer out a deal. 

“I do think that things need to be done amicably, and people shouldn’t feel bullied or threatened,” said Councilmember Eduardo Martinez during the discussion Monday evening.

Mayor Butt rebuked any accusations of bullying from Councilmembers. 

“For reasons I don’t totally understand, I’ve heard you all criticizing me on this,” Mayor Butt started. “If Foss wasn’t satisfied with the deal they wouldn’t pay $80,000 to move the ship twice.”

 In addition to acquiring a new spot in the Port at Basin 2, the maritime company has also agreed to transport SS Red Oak Victory twice for free —first from its current location to Basin 1, and eventually from Basin 1 to Basin 5, where it will stand long-term. The cost for moving the ship twice is estimated by Foss to cost upwards of $80,000.

Though Councilmember Bates proposed a motion which called for City Manager Lindsay to write letters of apology to the two businesses, the original motion on the agenda passed 5-1-1, with Councilmember Martinez dissenting and Councilmember Bates abstaining. 


*Correction 8/5/15: This article originally stated that the item discussed was a reimbursement agreement between the City and the Richmond Museum of History to restore SS Red Oak Victory. In fact, the reimbursement agreement was for the museum to install utilities at Basins 1 and 5 to accommodate the ship.

**Correction 8/5/15: This article originally stated that the lease of Rigger's Loft Winery stipulated that the owners have a view of the Bay. In fact, there is nothing in the winery's lease that entitles them to the view.

Photo courtesy of MojoSail

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  • Tom Butt
    commented 2015-08-05 04:01:50 -0700
    Sean, there are a number of errors in this story.

    You wrote, “At face value the item in question was a reimbursement agreement with the Richmond Museum of History to sufficiently restore SS Red Oak Victory.” The reimbursement was not to restore the Red Oak Victory but to install utilities in Basin 1 and 5 to accommodate the two moves.

    Next, you wrote, “The winery’s lease stipulates access to the expansive views of the Bay available at this location.” There is nothing in the winery’s lease that stipulates expansive views or sets a date certain for moving the Red Oak Victory. The only mention of the Red Oak Victory in the lease is that the winery will pay $5,000 towards the cost of moving it.

    Although your assertion that “The move of the ship to Basin 1 would unseat Foss,” is perhaps technically correct, it leaves out the fact that the existing lease was for only one one year, beginning 2012 and ending 2013. Foss had an option for four, one-year extensions, but only if the city agreed.

    The issue of apologies by Bates and Martinez was totally off the wall and uncalled for. What I did that neither Bates nor Martinez took time to do, was to actually read the leases, understand the facts and facilitate a resolution involving all parties. This is what the Charter encourages me, as mayor to do:

    • “…responsible for providing civic leadership and taking issues to the people, and marshalling public interest and support for municipal activity”
    • “Concerned with the general development of the community and the general level of City services and activity programs and may develop and inform City residents of policies and programs which he or she believes are necessary for the welfare of the City.”

    The reality is that both Bates and Martinez owe me, and perhaps the people of Richmond, an apology for using personal animosities to try and screw up a deal that satisfied all parties and was the best resolution for the people of Richmond.
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