The SS United States – nicknamed “America’s Flagship” for her record-breaking history and innovation – may be returned to New York and repurposed as a mixed-use destination, including event venues, a museum, green space, a hotel, and more.
The project is under consideration after the retired ship’s landlord in Philadelphia doubled her berth rent during the pandemic, a move that is now slated for trial.
SS United States May Be on the Move Again
The SS United States, once a global ambassador of the nation with her iconic red, white, and blue funnels, has been berthed in Philadelphia since 1996 and is now under the ownership of the SS United States Conservancy.
Various plans have been explored and modified over the years to restore or renovate the ship for different purposes, from office space and hotels to event centers, casinos, and more.
No such plans have continued much past the initial stages owing to the tremendous operational costs of the vessel and the need for extensive restoration.
In 2021, however, the matter came to a head when the rent for the ship’s berth space at Pier 82 was raised from $850 per month to $1,700 per month, contributing to a dispute over back rent that may require the ship to move.
Two New York firms have now joined the privately-funded project to move and redevelop the ship. Investment firm RXR and management company MCR Hotels have both helped develop ideas to repurpose the ship as a unique, mixed-use facility that would include several acres of public green space, a substantial hotel, food and beverage operations, and a museum dedicated to the ship’s storied history.
“The SS United States symbolizes the nation’s ambition and innovation. Our development partners have embraced the patriotic and economic significance of this monumental project,” said Susan Gibbs, president of the SS United States Conservancy and granddaughter of the ship’s original designer, naval architect William Francis Gibbs.
“Through their extensive due diligence, they have created a bold and exciting plan that preserves the ship’s history and activates the vessel’s commercial potential.”
Most notable during SS United States‘ service record – she sailed from 1952 through 1969 – the vessel broke the speed record for a passenger-carrying transatlantic crossing using just two-thirds of her power, a record the ship still holds today. SS United States routinely made the crossing at 30 knots, and only lost her edge for such travel with the expansion of jet liners.
Where Will the Ship Go?
Exactly where the SS United States might move is still up for speculation. While the Hudson River in Manhattan has been identified as the optimal choice because of the ship’s history sailing from that location as well as tourism and use potential, other cities may also prove viable choices.
Since her retirement, the ship has been berthed in Norfolk, Virginia and spent time in Turkey and Ukraine at various points when her future was uncertain and she changed hands to different developers in the hopes of different purposes, none of which materialized.
In 1996, the ship was towed back across the Atlantic and berthed in Philadelphia, where she has remained until this latest uncertainty.
In 2003, Norwegian Cruise Line purchased the vessel with plans to renovate the ship for service in Hawaii, which did not materialize and the ship was sold again in 2011 – this time to the SS United States Conservancy.
The new proposal for multi-use development is a promising one that could bring the remarkable vessel back into the public eye and restore the glory she has earned.