It turns out a group seeking to bring the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy to Portland Harbor as a museum is in competition with another New England state.

The Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame Inc. today publicly announced it was seeking to bring the carrier to Newport County as  “family attraction and recreation facility, education/heritage center, job training facility and disaster relief asset.”

The hall of fame has the support of the state’s governor and a Kennedy family member, according to the release.

“I have long been a supporter of bringing a retired aircraft carrier to Rhode Island, for the job creation and tourism opportunities it presents,” said U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, the son of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and President Kennedy’s nephew. “The fact that this particular vessel is named for President Kennedy brings even greater significance to this project, considering his strong ties and great affection for our state.”

The JFK for ME’s efforts so far were bolstered by a letter of support from the Portland City Council and a resolution from the Legislature. The group reacted to the Rhode Island news by suggesting that the carrier would be a major attraction for Maine.

“We believe that the Navy selection committee of the JFK will realize, just as the former crew of the Kennedy did when back in 1989, they chose Portland as their elected port of call, that the return of the JFK to the waters of Portland Harbor will complete the wishes of the former crew,” said Richard Fitzgerald of the JFK for ME group, this morning.

Fitzgerald said the carrier would have the honor of becoming a landmark in the harbor.

“In kind, she will honor all that served on her and she will equally honor the state of Maine,” said Fitzgerald.

The USS Saratoga Museum Foundation had sought to bring that retired carrier to Rhode Island. The Navy recently told the group that it had taken the carrier off the donation list, and planned to scrap the ship.

Two groups passed the first round of qualifications to seek the JFK, the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame and the JFK for ME group in Maine.

“During this period of economic doom and gloom, we are delighted to announce this exciting new initiative that will create jobs and generate much-needed tax revenue for the depleted state treasury,” said Frank Lennon, founder of the hall of fame and president of the Saratoga Museum Foundation, in a release this morning. “Just as importantly, this project will not require any direct funding from the state or the local host community.”

The release said that while the group had pursued the Saratoga for 12 years, the JFK “is simply a more viable option.” The Saratoga was decommissioned in 1994, has been only minimally maintained, and has been stripped to provide equipment for other ships in the fleet, the release said.

The JFK is in “mobilization readiness” mode, meaning the ship could be made ready for public access easier.

Bill Sheridan, deputy director of the aircraft carrier project in Rhode Island, suggested that state offered a better home for the JFK.

“Because Portland offers less advantages in location, population, tourism statistics and a number of other issues, we feel our proposal will offer significantly more attractive options,” said Sheridan. “Rhode Island’s historical connections with President Kennedy are well recognized, and our proximity to a much larger market and Newport’s established tourism draw offer potential economic benefits. More importantly, we have 10 years of effort invested in developing a funding and knowledge base, most of which will be easily transferable to the Kennedy effort.”


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