“Any way you look at it, there is no downside to this project,” McSweeney said. “It's an economic and community development project that's going to create jobs.”
The SS United States carried more than 1 million passengers at record-breaking trans-Atlantic speeds over the course of 400 round trips from 1952 to 1969, among them President John F. Kennedy, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Salvador Dali and Elizabeth Taylor. A joint venture between the Navy and ship designer Gibbs & Cox, the luxury liner was made with hidden military might: It could have been converted in a single day to transport 14,000 troops for 10,000 miles before refueling.
After being decommissioned it changed hands multiple times, from the Navy and on through a series of restoration-minded investors.
It was towed from Virginia to Turkey to Ukraine, finally arriving in Philadelphia as a gutted hulk in 1996. Another succession of developers and a cruise lines failed to return the ship to service as retrofitting costs proved too great.
A local philanthropist's 11th-hour gift of $5.8 million allowed the SS United States Conservancy to save the ship from the scrapper and keep it berthed and maintained for 20 months. That was last November.
“It's an all hands on deck moment,” Gibbs said. “Now is the time, there's a window. Within months it will close unless everyone assists in the effort.”