January 20, 2011

Plan to bring aircraft carrier to Portland founders

The City Council's decision ends the effort to give the JFK a home in Portland Harbor.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The City Council refused Wednesday to endorse a proposed site for the USS John F. Kennedy, effectively ending a private group's yearlong effort to bring the decommissioned aircraft carrier to Portland as a floating museum and tourist attraction.

click image to enlarge

Newport, R.I., is still pursuing the JFK and is expected to move to the Navy's third, and final, phase of the application process.

The council was asked to support a site on the eastern end of the waterfront, to show Navy officials consensus on where the ship would go and the city's cooperation in the private effort to bring the carrier to southern Maine.

Instead, the council voted 9-0 against endorsing the site, and the leader of the effort conceded defeat.

Steve Woods, CEO and executive director of the USS John F. Kennedy Museum, said he has not decided whether to formally tell the Navy that his effort is over or simply let the February deadline for submitting additional material -- including local support for a site -- pass.

Newport, R.I., which some members of the Kennedy family support as a home for the carrier, is still pursuing the ship and is expected to move to the Navy's third, and final, phase of the application process.

The Navy could decide to scrap the 42-year-old ship -- the Navy's last non-nuclear-powered carrier -- if it doesn't like Newport's plan.

Woods and a consultant for the effort, lawyer F. Lee Bailey, sensed the tide had turned against the proposal at the outset of their presentation Wednesday night. Bailey, for instance, began his remarks by saying he was seeking "a stay of execution" for the proposal.

He and Woods noted that the city was not being asked to put up any money and said the group would raise $5 million to be put in escrow for towing the 1,050-foot-long ship from the harbor if the city no longer wanted it after a 20-year contract period.

Woods said the ship would draw 225,000 visitors a year, including groups of people who had served on the JFK, schoolchildren and passengers on cruise ships that berth just yards from the proposed site for the carrier. He said it would have a direct economic impact of nearly $10 million a year in salaries for about 50 workers, tickets for visitors and purchases of local products.

He asked the council to support the site and sign a memorandum of understanding that could be given to the Navy to show that the group and the city were cooperating.

Several councilors said they made a mistake in voting 9-0 a year ago to support the initial effort to bring the Kennedy here. They said the organization failed to bring more detailed plans forward, including where it would raise millions of dollars for the ship, land-side development and upkeep.

Several councilors noted that residents seemed overwhelmingly opposed to bringing the ship to Portland, citing concerns that it is simply too big, would block views or would end up costing the city money. Councilor Kevin Donoghue said he wanted a strong "no" vote to end any uncertainty that the council shared those views.

After the vote, Woods said he senses a general reluctance -- in Portland and nationally -- to take on big visionary plans. "If we were in New York, discussing the Statue of Liberty, we would have heard the same response," he said.

Woods, a Yarmouth town councilor, joked that may propose that his hometown try to get the JFK and "put it in the Royal River."

Also Wednesday, the council approved assigning a tax increment financing package to the new owners of the Bayside Village student housing complex on Marginal Way. The TIF will provide the owners with as much as $120,000 a year as long as they maintain the building as student housing.

The bank that provided initial financing for the 400-bed development sold it last month to new owners who may eventually propose a different use, which would require amending the TIF.

The council also delayed a hearing and vote on a new liquor license for the Cactus Club on Fore Street until Feb. 7. Portland police are recommending against renewal of the license, citing two alleged violations of state liquor laws and disturbances that officers attribute to patrons of the bar.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

 

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