STOCKTON -- Google’s ultra-secret barge lumbered its way into the Port of Stockton on Thursday morning after making a 7.5-hour, 70-mile journey from the San Francisco Bay overnight.
Port and city officials greeted the barge as it docked with the help of two tugboats just after 10 a.m. Officials hung a large welcome banner on a nearby building and used the opportunity to take selfies with the barge, an unwieldy white structure built with old shipping containers.
Stockton leaders said they didn’t know what was inside. But they hailed the arrival as a godsend for a city better known in recent years for its high crime rate and for seeking bankruptcy protection.
“It’s a very good thing. We’re very delighted,” said Richard Aschieris, director of the 80-year-old port.
Nearly two dozen journalists from Sacramento and the Bay Area flocked to the port, which is usually closed to the public. Officials basked in the spotlight after reeling in the tech giant’s boat.
Calling Stockton a “hidden treasure,” Mayor Anthony Silva expressed hope that the barge would open a new chapter for the city, suggesting that a Google factory or office was not far behind.
“We’re ready to do whatever it takes to bring them in,” Silva said.
The 200-foot floating barge, previously moored at Treasure Island, was ordered by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission to move because it didn’t have the proper permits. In recent weeks, rumors had suggested the barge would travel inland to the Central Valley.
Until early Thursday, Stockton port officials weren’t certain whether the barge would come.
“We didn’t know for sure until they left,” Aschieris said. “I was told at 2 a.m. that they were indeed coming.”
Google used a third-party intermediary to negotiate the transaction, he said, which is typical in the port business because of privacy concerns.
The contents of the barge have been the subject of rampant speculation ever since journalists discovered the vessel’s existence last year. Google has sought to dampen rumors that it is anything other than a showroom.
Google will pay the port $12,000 a month for the parking spot, a price that’s based on the length of the boat, according to officials. The lease is a six-month agreement, but Aschieris said Google has options to leave early or extend the contract.
Aschieris touted the port’s security, along with its convenient location, as reasons why Stockton won out against other competitors. The Port of West Sacramento was another rumored landing spot, but officials there said Thursday they had not been in talks with Google.
The new parking spot seems well-suited for Google, a Mountain View-based company with a record for remaining mum on its projects. The barge is docked in the middle of a high-security zone that is regularly patrolled by the port’s 14 police officers.
However, the Stockton Deep Water Channel, in which the barge is parked, remains open to the public, as evidenced by a small motorboat that zipped by Thursday morning.
Noticeably absent Thursday were Google representatives. Aschieris said none of the workers who brought the barge were company employees.
Google declined to answer questions about the barge, and instead offered a statement that poked fun at the commotion.
“It’s been a busy six months for our barge and it’s grown tired of all the attention, so we are moving it to Stockton where it can have a break, enjoy the city’s delicious asparagus and warmer climate, and get a bit of rest before its next chapter,” the statement said.
Stockton, a city of nearly 300,000, is known for its annual asparagus festival in April.
At the Stockton Golf and Country Club, directly across from the port, a few local residents gawked at the big boat and posed for photos.
Cy Clays, 83, who lives two blocks away, showed up with a pair of yellow binoculars. “It’s probably a lab of some sort,” he said, adding that he would return to check up on the barge periodically.
Sacramentan Val Toppenberg was visiting Stockton on business, but that didn’t stop him from taking a side trip to the barge on his lunch break. Toppenberg, something of a port expert as the former West Sacramento economic development director, offered a guess on what was inside.
“They’re analyzing the bodies of the aliens from Area 51,” Toppenberg joked. “But really, no idea.”
Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang. The Bee’s Mark Glover contributed to this report.