Baltimore organization to bid Wednesday on aircraft carrier for floating museum

Group wants to berth vessel in Inner Harbor

November 22, 1999|By David Foster | David Foster,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

After six years of organizing, a Baltimore group is set to take on Tampa, Fla., in an effort to land the retired aircraft carrier USS Forrestal as a museum in the city's Inner Harbor.

Chaired by former crewman Frank J. Eurice of Abingdon, the USS Forrestal Museum Inc. will submit its bid to the Navy Sea Systems Command in Washington on Wednesday, the final day of the submission period.

"Our clock would start at that point, for anyone else to get in," Eurice said. Under the Navy's Ship Donation Program, once a party submits an application, others have six months to file competing bids.

A Tampa group has filed the only other application for the Forrestal, which is docked in Rhode Island. That application was filed May 26.

Organizations in Bensalem, Pa., and Virginia Beach, Va., have expressed interest in the aircraft carrier.

But Eurice said moving the Forrestal to either of those locations would be troublesome. To get to the inland Bensalem site, the carrier would have to sail up the Delaware River, which has bridges the carrier could not pass under.

The Navy offers free weekend tours of an aircraft carrier in Norfolk, near Virginia Beach. Making people pay for tours of the Forrestal would be a questionable business venture in that area, Eurice said.

`Very confident'

"I'm very confident" the Baltimore bid will succeed, Eurice said. Tampa officials could not be reached for comment.

Once the application has been submitted, Eurice said, the group would need to raise $15 million to fund the project. The group plans to seek funding from the private sector, including area banks.

Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, said the mayor would not support a city subsidy for the project and that a possible site for the carrier has not be selected.

"There's a good likelihood this won't be resolved until the new administration comes in," Coleman said.

Mayor-elect Martin O'Malley could not be reached for comment.

Should the Forrestal arrive in Baltimore, Eurice said he wants it docked at Port Covington in the Inner Harbor.

Tourists would be able to board and visit what would appear to be a working aircraft carrier, complete with a flight simulator.

Eurice said the group also hopes to have a number of educational programs aboard the ship for local schools, and an overnight program for Scout troops.

Admission would be about $8 for adults and $5 for children.

Tourist attraction

"We expect to generate an additional tourist stream of 13 million people [per year] increasing [the city's current tourist flow] by 10 percent," he said.

The Navy has spent $500 million over the years renovating the carrier, making it a much different vessel from the one he served aboard as a petty officer from 1966 to 1969 off the coast of Vietnam.

Huge vessel

"The flight deck is brand new. There's not a skid mark on it," Eurice said.

Towering 25 stories, covering 4 acres and 252 feet wide at its broadest point, the Forrestal was the Navy's largest aircraft carrier when it was commissioned in 1955.

Named for James Forrestal, America's first secretary of defense, the ship has served in the Mediterranean Sea, the Arctic Circle and the Persian Gulf. It was decommissioned Sept. 30, 1993. To dock the huge ship at Port Covington, the site would have to be excavated and piers built. Eurice said the museum group also plans to construct 360 parking spaces near the site.

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