But Philadelphia has a combination of great resources already on hand. And we have a number of pressing needs this mighty ship can serve. Let's make use of this extraordinary opportunity.
First, we are a great seaport city - one that nurtured the imagination of the SS United States' designer, Philadelphia-born William Francis Gibbs.
We have a top-notch maritime museum on the waterfront, and the harbor is already home to three historic warships - the cruiser Olympia, the submarine Becuna, and the battleship New Jersey - and two graceful sailing vessels - the bark Moshulu and the barkentine Gazela. That's critical mass for a new kind of tourist destination - an outdoor museum of our maritime past.
Second, we have taken the first thoughtful steps toward creating a master plan for Philadelphia's central Delaware River waterfront that promises to reconnect the city to its river, with a high premium placed on public amenities.
But much of the waterfront consists of vacant lots - blank slates. Shouldn't we find a place in the plan for the SS United States? What if people could see her red funnels at the foot of, say, Market Street, beckoning them to come down to the river?
Third, we will soon inaugurate an expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center, about twice as large as the existing facility. However, we still need almost 1,200 new hotel rooms for those who will be coming to town. With the planned PATCO light-rail connection between Center City and the waterfront, what could be more appealing than spending the night aboard the ship that brought Monaco's Prince Rainier to court Philadelphia's Grace Kelly?
Fourth, we are expecting one or two riverfront casinos. While both plan to build hotels eventually, nothing is in the works. Why not make use of one of the most beautiful residential facilities built in the 20th century to provide the wanted hotel space, just a short trolley ride from the casinos? Or even put the second casino on the ship itself?
The SS United States is an icon of a great era of American style and technological supremacy. Philadelphia can celebrate its contribution to those accomplishments while satisfying its own important needs. We can add a capstone to our collection of historical attractions, more hotel capacity, and a unique, highly visible attraction on a waterfront that's being redesigned.
Let's be as generous with our imaginations as the Lenfests have been with their money to create a compelling plan to keep the SS United States in Philadelphia.
Joanne Aitken is the chairwoman of the Design Advocacy Group of Philadelphia. David B. Brownlee is a cochairman of the group. For more information, see www.designadvocacy.org.