MARCH 25, 2013 — The SS United States Conservancy says that if it can't secure $500,000 from new donors, corporate sponsors, and other supporters, the historic liner could be sold to scrappers within the next two months. The conservancy urgently needs the funds to keep the ship in the water while redevelopment and museum discussions continue to advance. The ship's monthly maintenance, security costs and operational expenses are upwards of $80,000. Her faded red, white and blue funnels are the last of their kind in the world, but they may soon disappear forever unless emergency funding for her upkeep can be raised in the coming weeks.
The SS United States received a temporary stay of execution two years ago when she was purchased by a historic preservation group committed to restoring the vessel as a stationary waterfront attraction. America's largest and most famous ocean liner is now once again in grave danger. The effort to save her is running out of time due to the high costs of maintaining the nearly 1,000-foot-long vessel and slow progress on inking a deal to convert the ship into a mixed-use destination and museum complex.
"This is a four-alarm historic preservation crisis," said Susan Gibbs , the conservancy's executive director. "If this great American achievement is destroyed, we will lose an unparalleled opportunity to create jobs, honor our history, and celebrate innovation. With all the attention being given to plans for the Titanic II – a replica of an ocean liner famous for tragedy - we hope the American people and their political leaders will join us to save the United States. Rather than build a reproduction of the Titanic in China, let's repurpose the most famous ship that didn't sink before it's too late here at home."
The conservancy, a grassroots preservation group, has raised millions of dollars to purchase and maintain the ship and advance the vision of repurposing the world's fastest ocean liner. To date, the Conservancy has relied exclusively on tax-deductible contributions from private citizens from across the country and around the world. There has been no government intervention to save the historic ship.
In just the last eighteen months, the Conservancy has succeeded in advancing plans for the SS United States Center for Design and Discovery, building a collection of artifacts from the vessel, and creating a global community of supporters. Thousands of donors are purchasing virtual pieces of the vessel through an innovative crowdfunding campaign at SavetheUnitedStates.org. More than 50,000 virtual pieces of the ship have already been purchased and personalized. That campaign and the group's other creative activities to raise funds and awareness have won international media attention from among others, the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CBS and NBC News, and a wide range of other print and broadcast outlets.
To advance the ship's economic development potential, the conservancy established the SS United States Redevelopment Project to pursue development partners and investors. The vessel's repurposing would create an estimated 1,000 permanent jobs and thousands of other direct and indirect jobs in New York, Philadelphia or another East Coast city. The ship's more than 500,000 square feet of usable interior space offers a blank slate for establishing hotel, event, conference, retail, and restaurant spaces in a completely unique setting. Parts of the vessel's massive machinery spaces can be retrofitted to generate significant heat and electrical power for the ship's host community.
During the past year, hundreds of potential developers and financial backers were contacted and more than a dozen firms expressed interest. Serious negotiations with four firms were pursued in New York and Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, given the still sluggish economy, competing priorities on the part of developers, and regulatory hurdles, more time is needed to solidify a redevelopment deal. While the conservancy has identified new development opportunities, bridge funding is needed to keep this window of opportunity from closing.
The SS United States sailed from 1952-1969 from New York to Europe and other destinations. On her legendary maiden voyage, the ship shattered both east-bound and west-bound transatlantic speed records before beginning a flawless service career. Four U.S. presidents, countless world leaders, captains of industry, celebrities, and diplomatic, religious, and cultural leaders sailed on the ship, as did hundreds of thousands of everyday Americans and immigrants. The iconic ship became recognizable the world over as a symbol of American innovation. After retirement, the ship was stripped of interior fittings and sold repeatedly before being bought by the conservancy in 2011.
"The prospects for success and projected profit margins are significant," says Dan McSweeney , managing director of the SS United States Redevelopment Project. "We know that this model can work and we need someone who can join the effort and take it to the next level. Our efforts have identified credible financing options that could cover the repurposing of the vessel. We have been in talks with officials in New York and Pennsylvania that lead us to conclude we can make the ship a centerpiece of ongoing waterfront and economic development efforts. There is no downside to our concept."
"We have made major headway toward our goal of saving this national icon and giving her a sustainable future," said Ms. Gibbs. "The American people have responded generously to our call but without added support from the public - and their political leaders - our nation's flagship will be lost."