IT WOULD be a cultural marvel, aimed at bringing in tourists from around the world and generating millions for the city’s economy by hosting conferences.
Today The News can reveal the plan being put together by a group of Portsmouth-based businesses to buy HMS Illustrious and turn her into a floating conference centre when she is decommissioned from service next year.
The group, led by the Portsmouth and South East Hampshire Partnership, has put together a bid and registered an expression of interest with the Ministry of Defence.
If successful, their plan would see the Royal Navy’s helicopter carrier turned into a world-class conference, event and cultural centre.
It would include a heritage museum, art spaces, galleries, places to eat and a hotel.
Carl Leroy-Smith, the chairman of the Shaping the Future of Portsmouth City Image group and city-based architect says: ‘For many years Portsmouth has been seeking an opportunity to establish a conference centre that would take 1,000 delegates, which would complement existing venues in the region.
‘We are keen to investigate if HMS Illustrious can provide this for the city as nothing like it exists anywhere in the United Kingdom – or indeed Europe.
‘We aim to make this a world-leading destination of choice for some of the most prestigious conferences.
‘This would have an incredible economic impact for the entire region.’
HMS Illustrious is due to be retired from service next year and the Ministry of Defence has been inviting ideas on how she could be preserved for the nation.
BJ Schreuder, the general manager of the Portsmouth Marriott Hotel, supports the plan.
He said: ‘It is very important Portsmouth gets a large venue for conferences.
‘This will attract major national and international congresses and meetings or even larger sports events.
‘It will boost the local economy and will have additional demand for hotel room nights in the weaker seasons.’
The group says funding for the project will fit into several stages.
The initial capital needed to buy HMS Illustrious will be funded through a mixture of sponsorship and community funding.
The group behind the idea has been invited to an industry day with the Ministry of Defence early next year.
SEE THE PLAN: You can view a poster of the proposal by clicking here.