RIJEKA, Croatia — Once an industrial hub, the port city of Rijeka, on the edge of the Kvarner Bay, has grand ambitions to transform itself into a bustling art center as it embarks on the path to become a European “capital of culture.”

The aspirational title was bestowed by the European Union on Rijeka, Croatia’s third-largest city, as part of a campaign to celebrate the diversity of the bloc’s 28 members, and it has sent the city on the Adriatic Sea on a refurbishing spree.

Officials are sparing no expense, setting aside about 20 million euros to transform the city’s decaying infrastructure, and they are considering allocating €30 million to finance a yearlong cultural rejuvenation.

As a symbolic centerpiece of the makeover, they have plucked a maritime relic from Croatia’s past to restore and to showcase: a nearly 80-year-old ship named Galeb, or Seagull, that belonged to the Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito. Once a prized vessel of the Yugoslav Navy, which used it as a training boat, it has been rusting at the city’s port for years.

The Seagull now carries the hopes of a city struggling to revive its economy after the near-collapse of the heavy industry and manufacturing sectors in the late 1980s. If officials have their way, Tito’s boat will become a museum to display the complex history of Rijeka and serve as a point of pride for the nation.

Tito used the yacht, built in 1938 in Genoa, Italy, as his floating residence.CreditAgence France-Presse/Getty Images; Antonio Bronic/Reuters

But Tito’s controversial legacy is threatening that plan. Far-right nationalists, who have surged into Croatia’s political mainstream in recent years, vehemently oppose it. They are determined to bury Tito’s Communist history and revive the narrative of the country’s Nazi-allied regime during World War II.

Feared and revered in his day, Tito is described by some as a hero of the anti-fascist struggle who kept Yugoslavia’s six republics, including Croatia, together for more than 35 years. Others call him a Communist dictator who purged his enemies.

Tito used the yacht, built in 1938 in Genoa, Italy, as his floating residence, Yugoslavia’s embassy and a party boat. He hosted soirees on it for world leaders and Hollywood stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

He made 49 voyages on the vessel to four continents as Yugoslavia’s president, including a state visit in 1953 to Britain, where he met Winston Churchill as the first Communist leader after World War II. The boat was also the incubator for a Tito idea: the Nonaligned Movement, a bloc of countries outside the spheres of influence of the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.