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July 5, 2010

Conservancy releases more details of SS United States rescue plan

The SS United States Conservancy has announced more details of its plan to buy the SS United States from its current owner. Here's the statement:

In a major development in the effort to save the legendary American ocean liner SS United States from destruction, the SS United States Conservancy announces a donation by Philadelphia philanthropist H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest of up to $5.8 million. The funds will be used to purchase the vessel from its current owner, Norwegian Cruise Line/Genting Hong Kong (Norwegian/Genting), and maintain the ship in its current berth for up to 20 months, while redevelopment and refurbishment plans are solidified.

The Lenfest donation has enabled the Conservancy to enter into an exclusive purchase option agreement with Norwegian/Genting. Funds will be allocated at a future date to complete a title transfer of the vessel to the Conservancy once necessary authorizations have been obtained.

"We are thrilled that the SS United States has received a new lease on life. This is a game-changer in our work to save this irreplaceable American icon," said Conservancy Board President Susan Gibbs, granddaughter of the vessel's designer, William Francis Gibbs. "Mr. Lenfest's vision and generosity give us a fighting chance to preserve the SS United States for generations to come. We also want to recognize the support of Norwegian/Genting. They first listed the ship for sale in early 2009 and turned down higher offers to partner with us in this patriotic effort."

The SS United States has had a variety of owners since being removed from service in

1969. Still the holder of the "Blue Riband" (transatlantic speed record), set 58 years ago on her maiden voyage from New York to England, she is widely considered the greatest ocean liner ever built. She was also a secret weapon during the Cold War, able to be converted to a troop ship capable of carrying an army division 10,000 miles without refueling or replenishment. The ship became an icon of her era, transporting four American presidents and other heads of state, military and business leaders, and countless celebrities. She also brought many immigrants to America. The ship was purchased in 2003 with plans to be returned to ocean-going service. Bids from scrappers were accepted in February 2010.

"Having established a relationship with the Conservancy in 2009, Gerry Lenfest literally swept in at the 11th hour to save this national treasure," said Dan McSweeney, executive director of the organization, whose father emigrated from Scotland to work as a crew member aboard the ship. "Like thousands of supporters across the country and world, Mr. Lenfest understands this ship is a symbol of American preeminence in the 20th century. She can also become a part of America's future promise, potentially creating thousands of jobs during and after refurbishment and once again becoming a symbol of American determination and ability."

The Conservancy's exclusive purchase option with Norwegian/Genting will expire in February 2011. Once the title transfer occurs, the Lenfest donation provides the Conservancy with 20 months in which to begin the process of development. The Conservancy plans to establish a public-private partnership to own and operate the ship as a multi-purpose stationary attraction.

"We are reaching out to potential partners in Philadelphia, New York, and beyond as we begin laying the groundwork for the SS United States' next chapter," said Gibbs. "The ship offers some 550,000 square feet of space to develop, and her interiors can be configured in a variety of ways. We are putting together plans for a self-sustaining mixed-use complex with restaurant, retail, entertainment, and museum offerings. She has the potential to be a dazzling and dynamic waterfront attraction. The SS United States was an American original and we'll pay tribute to the ship's extraordinary history as we redevelop her for a new era."

In conjunction with entering into the exclusive sales option, the Conservancy will develop enhanced capabilities and resources, including new office space in Philadelphia and New York, an expanded board of directors and new "Blue Riband Council" of influential Americans, as well as an Advisory Council of maritime experts and individuals with close ties to the SS United States. The Conservancy has also received very robust pro bono services from two top-tier law firms. Vedder Price is providing legal counsel in corporate structures and acquisition and development of the vessel. Sidley Austin is representing the Conservancy with respect to environmental issues. The Conservancy will significantly expand its fundraising efforts and develop new marketing and outreach material and an enhanced internet presence.

You can contribute to the Conservancy's efforts HERE

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