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Updated: May 21, 2024

Commentary: With housing at a premium in Portland, a ship could offer hundreds of units

Provided photo Guest columnist Kenneth A. Capron says an unused ship like the Majesty of the Seas could alleviate Maine's housing crisis.

In 2018, Ethan Strimling commented, “I have no idea if it's the craziest idea I've ever heard, or the most brilliant idea I've ever heard, but what I like about it is that he's [Ken Capron] coming up with creative ways to figure out how to build housing in the city of Portland.”

I had just described to the mayor the concept of converting a retired cruise ship into affordable housing and permanently mooring it on the Portland waterfront. Although the idea was rejected for solving the homeless issues at the time, I never gave up on the idea of housing in general.

In early 2023, three Navy lieutenants from MIT’s Naval Engineering School approached me for help with a feasibility study of that conversion concept. They produced a 78-page detailed report covering every aspect of conversion. They referenced 99 sources and analyses. Their final conclusion — it’s feasible.

That rekindled my idea, especially in light of MaineHousing's analysis that Maine needs an additional 84,000 units of housing. 

My new goals are to find a ship, a place to put her, and funding to build the needed infrastructure.

Finding a ship was easy. During COVID, 43 cruise ships were sunk. Then in 2023, 22 ships were sunk. Many others were scrapped. A boat afloat must maintain an expensive crew. There are excellent videos on YouTube showing all this.

Royal Caribbean had auctioned off its Sovereign-class ships. One, the Majesty of the Seas, was moved to Greece to be added to a smaller line of cruise ships.

The Majesty of the Seas was state-of-the-art when it launched in 1992. It generates its own electricity with four diesels that generate 11,000 volts each. It desalinates and purifies its own water (1.4 million gallons a day). It processes its own waste. As is, it has 1,200 cabins.

That capacity can be increased to a max capacity at around 4,600 cabins although many will be combined into multifamily units. Even then, the living units are only 35% of available deck space (14 steel-framed decks 880-by-105 feet).

There are half a dozen restaurants and as many bars, several entertainment venues, a 500-seat auditorium, several community kitchens and eating areas, a running track, a rock-climbing wall and pools. As many as 600 spaces for onboard parking. A significant research facility and an array of marine engineering for students. Plans include public use of several ship benefits, like toilets.

Energy-wise, renewable diesel, an organic variation of diesel just coming out of the research labs, would fuel the ship. Geothermal, hydrothermal, geothermal heat pumps and "shrouded" vertical wind turbines will heat and cool the interior. Air and water will be purified with UV-light, filters and "friendly" chemicals.

Where? There’s a deep-water lot halfway between the Maine State Pier and the Ocean Gateway. It’s a perfect fit.

However, both Portland and the state of Maine claim ownership. It falls under the submerged land statutes.

Ownership was the demise of previous development back when the Olympia Co. and Ocean Properties sought to develop the pier. Portland never went to court to solve the ownership issue and thus the MSP has never been developed. I’m jumping into this fire feet first.

So, I’ve got the boat. I know the spot. Can I get the tax-exempt revenue bond funding that I need? I’m counting on it.

Housing 4,600 people is no small opportunity. This is a good test of just how sincere the government is about fixing that housing shortage. A lot of businesses along waterfront are screaming for workforce housing. The city is paying top dollar to house asylum seekers.

Seniors, veterans, students and others are in desperate need of affordable housing. Somewhere between $300 and $1,500 a month, those in need will have a home on the Majesty of the Seas.

Let me know what you think — crazy? Or brilliant? Have some fun in Portland’s newest neighborhood.

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Chalmers Hardenbergh
May 22, 2024

Completely agree. Do workforce housing - those on Commercial Street can walk home!

May 21, 2024

I have heard about seniors cruising around all year as it is cheaper to live on a cruise ship than to go into a senior living center. The food is good and they are always active which I believe will give them more longevity. I think it's brilliant!

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