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After decades of paying $1 a year, Bowfin girds for big rent increase

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    The USS Bowfin Museum and Park has paid $1 to sit in Pearl Harbor since 1981 but will have to start paying much more when the lease expires July 14.
    The interior of the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum. The museum, which has paid $1 in annual rent for the past 30 years, will face a dramatic rent increase after July 14.
    The bunk area within the USS Bowfin.
    The USS?Bowfin’s forward torpedo tubes.
    Richard and Maria Johnson of New Orleans posed for a photo yesterday aboard the USS Bowfin. The USS Bowfin Museum and Park has paid little for its space in Pearl Harbor since 1981 but will have to start paying rent on July 14.

For the past 30 years, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park has paid $1 a year for its waterfront spot next to the Arizona Memorial visitor center, officials said.

That’s about to change in a big way.

Since the current 25-year lease was signed, a change in federal law now requires the government to charge fair market rent for leased-out taxpayer land.

The nonprofit submarine museum’s lease expires July 14. After that the Bowfin will have to fork over rent many thousands of times higher than it pays now.

Just how many thousands remains to be seen.

The nonprofit Battleship Missouri Memorial paid a little more than $200,000 in 2008 for its berth at Pier F-5 on Ford Island. A new five-year lease signed in April and retroactive to Jan. 1 requires the Missouri to pay double that: $409,824 a year, the Navy said.

In 2008, at a time when the Missouri was being scheduled for a costly dry-docking to repaint the historic battleship’s hull, then-U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie secured a two-year rent break for the "Mighty Mo" by attaching the provision to the defense authorization bill.

Congress allocated $9.9 million for repairs in the 2009 defense appropriations bill, and the state provided $250,000.

Bowfin Executive Director Jerry Hofwolt, a retired Navy captain and submariner, said that with the economy in the shape it’s in, he’s not expecting any congressional assistance now.

"Remember, we’re under the new fiscal constraints. There’s some impact with that," Hofwolt said. "So what probably happened several years ago, with a new sort of playing field (now), those efforts probably would not necessarily be very effective."

Draft proposals have gone back and forth between the Naval Facilities Engineering Command and the Bowfin, but Hofwolt declined to say what dollar figures are being discussed for a new lease.

"It hasn’t been agreed upon yet," he said. "We’re still in the process of negotiating those kinds of things."

Hofwolt said that, considering the type of bill the Missouri pays, though, "it’s going to be kind of tough."

"It’s like anything. We’re very cautiously optimistic that we can sit down and go forward," he said. "(But) we’re like any other business: We’re not going to leap into something."

Hofwolt said the big rent increase was expected, but it comes after the museum spent more than $700,000 for dry-docking in 2004, and as improvements are sought such as adding a photovoltaic system over the Bowfin submarine and modifying the entrance.

"The quality of the (other) museums has gone up here in Pearl Harbor," Hofwolt said. "My museum, having been designed probably in the ’60s, I need to improve the quality of my museum, also."

According to Internal Revenue Service filings, the Bowfin’s gross receipts from admissions, merchandise sales and services totaled $1.5 million in 2005 but jumped to $3.9 million in 2009.

Abercrombie was unsuccessful in 2008 in getting the secretary of the Navy to make an exception and charge the Missouri only a "nominal" rent and give other museums nearby, including the Bowfin, similar consideration.

Tom Owen, a Wisconsin man who toured the Bowfin yesterday, said the sub, launched in 1942 and nicknamed the "Pearl Harbor Avenger," was "very interesting, considering its age. You relate back to how things were then. It wasn’t an easy life."

The 56-year-old added, "I think they should pay something (for rent), but it shouldn’t be an exorbitant fee."

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