NEW YORK TIMES
An Old Aircraft Carrier Needs a Final Resting Place, but Not Everyone Wants It
By KATIE ZEZIMA
Published: September 18, 2010
PORTLAND, Me. — Apparently it is not so easy to find a permanent home for a resident that weighs tens of thousands of tons and is more than 1,000 feet long.
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The JFK CV-67 Memorial Foundation, Inc., Roland Camilleri
The aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy may end up in Portland, Me. Some residents are concerned that it might block the view.
The John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier christened by a 9-year-old Caroline Kennedy in 1967 and decommissioned three years ago, needs a place to retire. The Navy wants to donate it. If no viable host can be found, the carrier that aided United States military operations in Beirut and Operation Desert Storm will be turned into scrap.
The Navy accepted proposals from Portland and Rhode Island, but not everyone here wants the battle-tested carrier parked in the harbor.
“It’s not a good fit,” said David Marshall, a City Council member. “It would block a good portion of our view corridors, and it ends up being a potential liability for the city.”
But Richard Fitzgerald, who is leading a nonprofit group’s effort to bring the John F. Kennedy to Portland, said the carrier would set this harbor filled with barges, ferries and fishing boats apart from others in New England.
“It would be the best thing that ever happened to the state of Maine,” Mr. Fizgerald said.
Last year the City Council gave the group permission to apply for the ship. The last of three selection rounds begins in February.
Last week, after the Portland group presented plans at a workshop on the project, some said an aircraft carrier just would not blend in amid a backdrop of lobster boats and repurposed warehouses and could block views of harbor islands. Half of the counselors present at the workshop expressed concern about the project. The group would have to agree to the ship’s location.
A hearing and vote on the carrier has not been scheduled.
Mr. Fitzgerald, a sports referee and retired accountant, said he was not surprised by the opposition given the economic climate and was confident that he could persuade the council to support the project.
Mr. Fitzgerald sees the John F. Kennedy as a museum in the style of New York’s Intrepid or San Diego’s Midway, as well as a function space. The ship would be a fitting tribute to Maine’s rich maritime and military past and would attract ample tourist traffic, he said.
Many of the visitors, Mr. Fitzgerald said, will come from cruise ships that dock in a terminal directly next to where he hopes the carrier will be berthed. The 1,052-foot-long aircraft carrier is not much larger than the cruise ships that the city is courting or the barges that move cargo into the port, Mr. Fitzgerald said.
“The Kennedy has a very sleek silhouette compared to cruise ships that have several upper decks,” he said. “Some of them are longer than the carrier and side by side overwhelm the carrier.”
But Mr. Marshall does not want to see a ship that large become a permanent resident.
“The difference between the cruise ships and the J.F.K. is that the cruise ships are temporary guests,” Mr. Marshall said. “The J.F.K. would basically be an aircraft carrier sitting on our waterfront forever.”
Mr. Marshall also worries about how the museum will be financed. Mr. Fizgerald said the project would cost $71 million over 10 years, which would be raised through a combination of donations, grants and loans. No city money will be used, he said.
Based on models from other museums, he expects the Kennedy to pull in about $36 million in five years from visitors.
The ship, nicknamed Big John, was the last non-nuclear-powered aircraft carrier built by the Navy, and it received so many modifications during construction that it became its own class.
The Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame has been marshaling support from Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, President Kennedy’s nephew, and other public figures. They plan to turn the ship into a museum, job-training center and disaster-relief staging ground, and have identified $10 million in commitments after a previous attempt to get an aircraft carrier fell through.
“I think they’re grasping at straws,” Frank Lennon, president of the hall of fame, said of the Portland effort. “Here you have J.F.K. PT boat training in Melville, you have his marriage to Jackie at St. Mary’s in Newport, and Hammersmith Farm was the summer White House. You have all sorts of Kennedy connections here.”
But Mr. Fitzgerald, who fills with emotion when he speaks about the carrier, is determined.
“It will happen in Portland,” he said.