Hope floats for bringing USS JFK aircraft carrier to Portland

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PORTLAND — A proposal to permanently dock the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier in Portland Harbor will go before the City Council again early next year.

This time, however, the project has new leadership – event-marketing specialist Stephen Woods and attorney/consultant F. Lee Bailey, both of Yarmouth.

The proposal, which first gained traction last summer, would bring the 192-foot tall, 1,050-foot long decommissioned U.S. Navy vessel to the Ocean Gateway mega-berth as a museum and tourist attraction. The only other city competing for the ship is Newport, R.I. If neither city takes it, the JFK will be scrapped.

The project is not without its critics. City councilors have already opposed the plan, citing disruption of the skyline and inconsistencies in the business plan.

“I don’t think there will be much, if any, council support for bringing this to Portland,” Mayor Nick Mavodones said Monday. “The people who live here are not in support.”

Mavodones said he and the other councilors have heard from neighborhood organizations and many individuals, and that the vast majority of them are not in favor of the ship docking permanently in the harbor.

“It’s a whole host of reasons,” he said. “They’re saying it’s not the right fit for the waterfront, some don’t like the idea of having a warship here, some don’t like the size.”

But Woods, president and chief executive of TideSmart Global in Falmouth, took over the project from Buxton resident Richard Fitzgerald. He said he is confident he can sell it to the council and the general public.

Woods recently took a tour of the ship, which is docked in Philadelphia, and said he is excited about the prospect of bringing the ship to Portland.

“I see this as an opportunity to unlock Casco Bay,” Woods said. “We could use the JFK as a portal to open up the rich military and shipping history.”

Woods said he’d like to see school groups coming up from Boston, retired military personnel and tourists coming to Portland for the ship and discovering the forts, lighthouses and other local military and nautical attractions.

Bailey accompanied Woods to Philadelphia for the official tour. He is well known for having been part of the successful O.J. Simpson murder case defense team, but was later disbarred in Florida and Massachusetts for attorney misconduct in another case. Most recently he was the public proponent for Oxford Aviation’s failed proposal to build a jet division at Brunswick Naval Air Station.

“As a resident of Yarmouth, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know F. Lee Bailey over the last few months and he has been gracious enough to volunteer his time and expertise,” Woods said, adding that Bailey is a military veteran and former pilot.

While previous discussion of the USS JFK project included predictions of a 10-year, $70 million budget, Woods said his plan will cost significantly less.

“The $70 million original estimate was much too high,” he said. “We’ll present more detailed budget number in January.”

Mavodones said one of the major concerns the council had with previous presentations was the lack of a solid business and fundraising plan.

“My general sense of the council is that this is not something we’re supportive of,” he said.

Woods estimated the project would have a “$50 million positive impact” on Portland’s tourism industry and bring 100 permanent jobs and even more temporary jobs during the two-year retrofitting project for the carrier.

The Rhode Island group working to acquire the ship for Newport recently announced a $500,000 fundraising campaign matched up to $100,000 by an anonymous local businessman. Additionally, money from a previous attempt to bring the USS Saratoga to Newport harbor has been rolled into the USS JFK fund after the Navy decided not to donate the Saratoga.

The City Council is expected to vote Jan. 19 on whether to support the Portland group’s acquisition and fundraising efforts. Woods will likely have five to ten minutes to make a presentation, Mavodones said, before the council makes its decision.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

Sidebar Elements

The tower of the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier stands 19 stories above the water and would be a significant presence in Portland Harbor if a proposal to dock the ship at the city’s new mega-berth is approved.