The big announcement came from the U.S. Navy a summer ago: Duluth had been chosen for the commissioning of the USS Minneapolis Saint Paul, a freshly christened littoral combat ship. The big-deal ceremony was to happen this spring or summer, the first time in decades Minnesota was picked for such an honor. Similar events have attracted thousands of naval veterans and other visitors, each of them buoying a local economy with their purchases of restaurant meals, hotel rooms, souvenirs, and more. Such ceremonies are typically held in coastal cities that are home to the shipyards where vessels are built. The USS Minneapolis Saint Paul was built in Marinette, Wis., on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The announcement was a major win for Duluth and the port of Duluth-Superior.
"It's going to be a Minnesota pride weekend," Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy Jodi Greene declared in an exclusive interview with the News Tribune Opinion page in July 2019. "This is a rare opportunity. Everybody is going to want to come up to see this. A commissioning ceremony for a ship is just such a prideful moment; there is no way not to show patriotism."
But then COVID-19 hit and, like so much else — including prideful moments — the commissioning was put off.
But it wasn’t canceled — and Duluth will not lose out, commissioning committee chairman Brian Skon said in an update provided exclusively to the News Tribune Opinion page.The commissioning is now scheduled for late spring 2021, and it’s still to be held in Duluth, he said.
“We continue to be confident,” Skon said. “We are closely monitoring U.S. Navy information from the commissioning support team and health directives from local and state officials. … (Naval leaders) will do everything in their power to provide for public events that do not compromise the safety of the sailors and participants.”
In anticipation of the event, sponsorship and fundraising efforts are to be relaunched this fall, Skon said, with a goal of raising $300,000. With Minnesota now facing a COVID-caused $2.4 billion state budget shortfall, an expected subsidy from the state is no longer happening.
Things that are happening, though — each one a sign that the commissioning will be reality — include an official portrait of the USS Minneapolis Saint Paul, a watercolor painting by Duluth artist John T. Salmin, and an official collectible coin that’s to be available this fall.
In addition, the commissioning committee has begun taking names at lcs21.org for tickets to the ceremony. The names are to be sent to the Navy, which will send out invitations about two months in advance and provide tickets to those who respond to their invitations.
Meanwhile, the USS Minneapolis Saint Paul isn’t just docked or anchored somewhere.
“History was made on Aug. 5, when Minneapolis Saint Paul was underway for the first time on builders trials. She is structurally complete and the shipyard is now in the process of testing systems,” Skon told the Opinion page. “Sections of the crew will travel to the shipyard over the next few months, with scheduled 'move aboard' (in) January 2021.”
The scheduled commissioning can follow just a couple short months after that — with all its pomp, ceremony, patriotism, and economic impact washing over the port of Duluth-Superior.