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One ship project sails, other caught in doldrums

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001


There's a simple lesson to be learned from two groups seeking donations to build floating maritime museums in Tampa: It helps to have the boat first.

Boosters of the SS American Victory, a World War II-era cargo ship docked near the Florida Aquarium, are on a roll. They've collected $1.8-million in cash and in-kind donations, including two $100,000 gifts, to get the steam-powered propulsion system working.

With $100,000 more, the work can be done by fall so the ship can start sailing money-making nostalgia cruises, says Maggie Osborne, vice president of the American Victory Mariners Memorial & Museum Ship.

On March 3, the group is throwing a shipside fundraiser featuring the Florida Orchestra playing excerpts from Richard Rodgers' score to the TV documentary series Victory at Sea as a video of old merchant vessels and the local restoration effort is projected on the hull.

With tickets ranging from $25 concert seats to $5,000 corporate tables with dinner, the group hopes to pick up about $40,000.

Meanwhile, the push to bring the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal to Tampa is treading water.

Organizers are awaiting word from the Navy on whether they will receive the huge vessel. They've raised a little more than $1-million in cash, pledges and donations of services, chairman John Kercher says.

Lots of big, national corporations have expressed interest in writing checks, he says. But without a commitment from the Navy, the checkbooks will remain closed.

And one of the Navy's criteria for receiving a retired ship: Have you raised enough cash to restore and care for it?

"If we were starting over, I'd call this Project Catch-22," Kercher says. "We can't raise money successfully until we get the ship."

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