Work on this project started in December 1997 when the Providence Journal reported the pending transfer to Middletown of the carriers Saratoga and Forrestal, along with the battleship Iowa, from the soon-to-be-closed Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
Over the next 42 months The USS Saratoga Museum Foundation, Inc -- an all-volunteer group -- created a vision of a major non-profit museum/memorial, educational center and family attraction at Quonset Point, and worked to turn that vision into reality.
This crusade culminated in an endorsement from the Providence Journal in its lead editorial on September 16, 1999. Eleven days later, Governor Almond and the EDC Board he chairs voted unanimously to allow the project to proceed on a conditional basis.
Since then the all-volunteer group (there are still no paid employees) has raised funds and worked diligently to meet the 13 conditions imposed by EDC, a challenge which many objective observers believed would be almost impossible to meet.
Against all odds, this volunteer group has brought the project to the brink of fruition.
On January 19, 2000 the Secretary of the Navy placed Saratoga in donation status, thus making her eligible to become a museum and memorial.
In April 2000, both houses of the Rhode Island General Assembly passed Resolutions of support for this project. Subsequently, the House and the Senate each committed $25,000 legislative grants.
On October 17, 2000 we submitted the formal application for donation of the ship. This 1200 page document covered financial, engineering, environmental and historic preservation issues. A notice in the Federal Register set April 17, 2001 as the cutoff date for competitive applications. None were received, meaning the Navy may donate the ship so long as we meet minimum requirements.
- The Park would initially occupy about 9 acres of the former naval base on Rhode Island's beautiful Narragansett Bay, and would feature as its centerpiece the former USS Saratoga, a Forrestal-class carrier. The resulting complex (including Quonset Air Museum) would be the only attraction in the world featuring an aircraft carrier and an aviation museum adjacent to an active, 8000 foot runway which is available for aviation events.
- The USS Saratoga, (currently at Middletown, only 33,500 feet away) would be towed across the bay to this mooring. The old Sea Rescue building would be rebuilt as a Visitor Center.
- Plans include the preservation and renovation of historic buildings, including the Mitchell Mobile Hangar and the Naval Air Rework Facility, home of the Quonset Air Museum.
- Educational facilities and programs for all ages will be key components. The Park intends to become a major educational resource for surrounding towns, the state and the region. A vocational school and other business development programs will create jobs, train workers and make the rest of the park more attractive for industry.
- Development of this project would generate an estimated 148 direct person-years of construction employment and a total one-time 337 person-years of employment within the economy.
- In addition to putting people to work immediately on construction, the Park creates 60 other direct jobs within two years, and 100 direct jobs within five years. These are full-time, well-paying positions averaging $22,000 per year -- equivalent to the current wage in Rhode Island for fabricated metal manufacturing jobs.
- Based on a combination of resident visitation, penetration of the existing tourist market, generation of new tourists and attraction of pass-through travelers, projected attendance will average 550,000 visitors annually. Even the most conservative analysts agree the project will generate more than enough visitors to exceed its break-even point of 246,000.
- These visitors will have a direct, indirect and induced impact of more than $30 million annually on the Rhode Island economy, resulting in the creation of a total of over 500 jobs. The project will also generate more than $1.6 million in annual tax revenue to the State. (These numbers were developed by the Office of Thomas J. Martin, nationally recognized consultants who performed similar studies for such attractions as the Mystic Aquarium and the Mississippi River Museum.)
- These benefits have generated support from a wide range of political and ideological interests, first led by Congressman Bob Weygand. Senator Lincoln Chafee and Congressman Jim Langevin have also been strong supporters. Labor unions, environmentalists, businessmen, and veterans have joined a bi-partisan, grass roots efforts to see this project through. The Park has been formally endorsed by the North Kingstown Planning and Harbor Management Commissions, as well as the Town Council. Ten other City/Town Councils from Providence to Warwick to Glocester have echoed these endorsements.
- Phase I development will be in the $8 million range. This critical mass would include towing and mooring the carrier and preparing key spaces (such as the bridge, flight deck and hangar deck) for public viewing. Phase I would also include development of the Visitor Center and refurbishment of the machine shops to open the first stage of the vocational school.
- A rough estimate of the total built-out project cost is $15 million, a significant portion of which would be generated from earned revenue in future years. The project is able to pay its own way (to include debt service) from the very first year it opens its doors.
- In 1995 local leaders in Jacksonville raised $6.5 million in cash, pledges, and a city loan guarantee in an attempt to develop a museum in that Florida city. Before that effort fell short the organizers spent tens of thousands of dollars on feasibility studies and engineering plans. The Jacksonville group has provided the Rhode Island organizers with this data, thus saving thousands of dollars and months of work.
- The USS Saratoga Association has committed to a $2 million pledge effort among the 65,000 sailors, marines and air crew who served aboard CV-60 from 1956 to 1994. Additional thousands of veterans from the WWII carrier Saratoga (CV-3) are also involved with saving this ship as a museum.
- Merrill Lynch Trust Company has agreed to assist in the fund raising effort. Greenwich Partners LLC, a Wall Street firm with considerable experience in financing non-profit ventures, has made a $5 million investment banking commitment conditioned on site control, donation of the vessel by the Navy, and our ability to raise the $2.5 million balance of the Phase I capital requirement.
- The Park's military elements will include recognition of the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Expressions of support have been received from each of those services. Rhode Island's contributions to safeguarding our way of life from 1776 to the present day will be prominently commemorated, as will the history of the Rhode Island National Guard.
- The board of the Quonset Air Museum has unanimously endorsed this project, and Park organizers have invited the Rhode Island Seabees to consider co-locating their museum and memorial in this complex as well.