Historic ship short on funds and time

By JOANN LOVIGLIO Modified: March 25, 2013 at 10:34 pm •  Published: March 26, 2013
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— The SS United States is sending out what may be its final distress call.

The 990-foot-long ship could be sold for scrap within two months unless the grass-roots preservation group that's working to secure a home and purpose for it can raise $500,000 immediately, the group told The Associated Press. Talks are under way with developers and investors about the ship's long-term future, but without the emergency funding, its caretakers fear they will run out of money before a deal is inked.

The historic ocean liner carried princes and presidents across the Atlantic in the 1950s and 1960s but has spent decades awaiting a savior at its berth on the Philadelphia waterfront.

“We've made progress on the fundraising side and the redevelopment side,” said Susan Gibbs, executive director of the SS United States Conservancy and granddaughter of the ship's Philadelphia-born designer, William Francis Gibbs. “Our immediate goal is to buy some time.”

The group has raised $1 million through fundraisers and a website, where contributors can sponsor a piece of the ship for $1 per square foot, but has received no public funding. What is desperately and immediately needed, they said, are donors with deep pockets and high profiles.

“Are we giving up on successfully redeveloping the ship as a self-sustaining entity? Absolutely not,” said Dan McSweeney, head of the redevelopment efforts. “We continue to have active discussions with potential partners, we have ideas of potential sites for the ship, but we need more time to get it off the ground … and we're running out of runway.”

It costs $80,000 a month just for mooring, basic maintenance, insurance and security, he said.

The conservancy is exploring potential partnerships with four entities in Philadelphia and New York City to refashion the vessel as a stationary entertainment complex with 500,000 square feet of space for a hotel, theater, restaurants and shopping. The sluggish economy and other factors have slowed negotiations, McSweeney said.

As talks continue, he said, the hope is to convince corporate sponsors, influential politicians and prominent business leaders — are you listening, Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg? — to lend their political and financial capital to the effort.


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