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AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FOR SARATOGA VETERANS, DONORS AND SUPPORTERS
NEW DIRECTION FOR OUR AIRCRAFT CARRIER PROJECT
Over the past several weeks, the leadership of the USS Saratoga Association and Saratoga Museum Foundation leadership have become aware of the Navy's increasing reluctance to donate Saratoga as a family attraction and education center. In recent months, the Navy has expressed concerns about the condition of ships on lengthy donation holds. In November, NAVSEA made a surprise announcement, offering the newer USS John F Kennedy for donation.
I am saddened to report that our fears about Saratoga have been realized. The Secretary of the Navy has notified Congress of the Navy's intent to remove Saratoga from donation status. Plans have been put in motion to scrap the ship instead of making it available as a public attraction, thus ending this phase of our non-profit effort.
All is not lost, however...
WHEN ONE DOOR CLOSES, ANOTHER DOOR OPENS
Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame, Inc., a Rhode Island non-profit group, today [May 3, 2010] announced the public launch of an effort to bring the retired aircraft carrier USS John F Kennedy to Newport County as a family attraction and recreation facility, education/heritage center, job training facility and disaster relief asset. The Navy unexpectedly made the Kennedy available for donation last November, and potential applicants were given 60 days to submit a detailed Letter of Intent, describing their plans for the ship. Since her retirement, the Kennedy has been maintained in a fully functional reserve status and could be quickly made ready for her new roles.
The Naval Sea Systems Command qualified Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame (RIAHOF) to move forward with its plans, which call for JFK to become a major new destination and economic engine for Aquidneck Island. One other candidate--a group in Portland, Maine-was also authorized to proceed to the next phase of the process. The Portland group identified itself in early February, but the second qualified applicant was not publicly announced until today.
Background on the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame, and details of RIAHOF's campaign for the USS John F. Kennedy can be found at:
USS Saratoga Museum Foundation, Inc. has decided to throw its support behind this affiliated local effort to obtain JFK, also known as “Big John”. After all, the Foundation's non-profit mission was (and still is) to locate a supercarrier in Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay, and transform it into a world-class family attraction, education center, job training facility and memorial.
In return, RIAHOF would allocate significant space in the hangar bay of “Big John” to honor the memory of all US Navy ships named Saratoga, along with the men who served in them. We have already asked the Navy to assist with this transition (and to help soften the blow caused by the decision to scrap Saratoga.)
The Foundation has formally requested the transfer of a number of historic Saratoga assets for possible future display aboard JFK, and even the removal of a meaningful piece of the superstructure before the ship leaves Newport.
More importantly, the Foundation has asked the Navy to support a carefully-controlled, one-time farewell visit to Saratoga by qualified Saratoga veterans. The Navy has taken this request under consideration, with the understanding that the number of visitors and the duration of the visit would be limited, and that access would be to the hangar bay and flight deck only.
The USS Saratoga Museum Foundation, Inc. will continue to manage that effort, and will also continue to operate many of the other worthy projects launched over the past several years-to include many of the educational initiatives.
Despite our many years of work focused on Sara, it is difficult to argue with the Navy's preference to donate JFK. Saratoga was decommissioned 16 years ago, has been only minimally maintained, and has been stripped to provide equipment for other ships in the fleet.
On the other hand, JFK is in mobilization readiness condition--meaning a successful applicant could theoretically take her over one day and virtually be ready for public access the next. The upfront capital cost would be millions of dollars less. More importantly from the Navy's perspective, the ongoing maintenance cost would be less, and the need to drydock JFK again would be decades further into the future.
Adding the intangible value of the name (especially in southern New England) creates an attractive package that would undoubtedly be easier to promote to donors and corporate sponsors. As you know, we have struggled for years without success to interest major corporations in Saratoga sponsorships. Chances are the cachet of the name “JFK” will draw greater sponsorship interest.
From a purely business perspective, JFK is simply a more viable option, with a higher chance for eventual success.
That is small consolation for those of us with an emotional attachment to Sara.
However, the Navy's decision to make JFK available for donation put the Saratoga Foundation into a box. There is only room for one aircraft carrier attraction in New England, and if some other group were able to put forth a viable application (especially for a site such as Boston), the Saratoga effort in Rhode Island would have certainly been doomed.
After much internal discussion, the Saratoga board agreed that the worst case scenario would be if a third party, not beholden in any way to the Saratoga cause, were awarded the Kennedy for a different New England site (especially Boston).
For a number of reasons the Saratoga board also decided that USS Saratoga Museum Foundation itself would not submit an application for JFK while the Saratoga application was still pending and viable.
However, the board saw the handwriting on the wall and realized that if for no other reason than to avoid loss by default, it was essential for Saratoga to align itself with a group that could compete for the JFK, and at the same time protect the large investment of volunteer hours, cash and in-kind donations that have been made over the past 12 years.
Given the Navy's action to remove Saratoga from donation status, that decision was a prudent one.
This is obviously a very fluid situation, with a number of variables.
The Saratoga Museum Foundation and the Saratoga Association are committed to work with each other and the Navy to ensure that the investment made over the past twelve years still bears fruit.
It is essential that we maintain a united front as this process moves forward. It will take several weeks for the entire picture to become clear, but we will keep you advised as decisions are made and a final direction is determined.
NOTE: The entire financial history of the Foundation's operation is on the internet for all to see, at www.guidestar.org
To access this data, you must register-but registration is free. After you register, enter “USS Saratoga Museum” in the search box. Click on the “USS Saratoga Museum Foundation, Inc.” link that appears on the next screen, which will bring you to a summary page about our operation.
To get the financial data, click on the tab marked “Forms 990 & Docs”, and you will be able to see the full detail of all our non-profit tax filings with the IRS.