A $33 million contract has been awarded for the construction of a new visitors center at the USS Arizona Memorial, which is getting nearly twice as many tourists as its facilities were designed to handle.
The Navy on Wednesday announced that Watts Constructors of Honolulu has been awarded the contract to build a new museum, shop and a second theater at Hawaii's top tourist destination. The total cost of the new site is expected to reach $54 million.
Construction is expected to begin before the end of the year. The memorial is expected to remain open while the new visitors center is being built, with completion expected by the 69th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack in December 2010.
Current visitor buildings are built on land dredged from Pearl Harbor and have been gradually sinking, with portions of the center sagging by as much as 30 inches since the center opened in 1980.
Existing visitor areas at the memorial will be torn down after the expanded facilities are completed. The theater will remain, but a second will be built to cut what currently can be a two-hour wait to see historic film of the Pearl Harbor attack.
The Arizona Memorial Museum Association plans to double the size of its museum from the current 2,500 square feet. The new museum will allow visitors to see items currently not on display, including some of the thousands of donated artifacts now kept in a warehouse.
The memorial was designed to accommodate 2,400 visitors a day. It now draws 1.5 million a year.
The memorial itself sits atop the battleship, which was sunk along with several others on Dec. 7, 1941, by Japanese planes. More than 900 crew members remain entombed in the ship.