Is SS United States shipping out for New York?

The SS United States, a once-grand liner that backers for years have tried to rescue, could be leaving its nearly 20-year home in South Philly. Its owner says it has a deal with a partner and will give details in New York next week. Story, B3.
The SS United States, a once-grand liner that backers for years have tried to rescue, could be leaving its nearly 20-year home in South Philly. Its owner says it has a deal with a partner and will give details in New York next week. Story, B3. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / File Photo)
Posted: January 30, 2016

After years of trying to raise money to retrofit the rusting SS United States to become a waterfront destination, the conservancy that owns the historic ocean liner docked in South Philadelphia says it has new, big plans.

And those plans appear to be in New York.

The nonprofit, Washington-based SS United States Conservancy, which owns the ship, said Thursday that it had entered an "option agreement" with a "major redevelopment partner" and would provide details at a news conference next Thursday in New York.

Conservancy spokesman Thomas Basile wrote by email that he could not confirm a New York move, but plans for an announcement at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal on the Hudson River reinforce earlier hints of a Big Apple move.

The cruise terminal is owned by the City of New York and managed by the New York City Economic Development Corp.

Susan Gibbs, executive director of the conservancy, and the CEO of the unnamed "development partner" are expected to speak at the news event.

Gibbs' grandfather William Francis Gibbs designed the ship.

In February 2011, the conservancy announced that it had bought the ship from Norwegian Cruise Line for $3 million, with the help of Philadelphia philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest.

Lenfest, the conservancy's largest donor, gave $5.8 million, most of it used for the purchase.

Lenfest, who until recently owned The Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com, could not be reached Thursday for comment.

The conservancy said in February 2011 that it was searching for partners to help develop the ship into a multipurpose waterfront destination with a hotel, retail shops, and a museum. Dan McSweeney, executive director at the time, said the ship could move to New York or Miami.

The rusted, worn ship, built in 1952, served as a trans-Atlantic ocean liner from New York to ports in Europe until it was retired in 1969.

The ship has been docked at Pier 82 on the Delaware River, across from IKEA, since 1996.

The conservancy has faced money woes. Last year, it set a save-it-or-scrap-it deadline for the ship, but then announced in November that it had raised $600,000 to prevent the vessel from being junked.

The donations were to buy 10 months for the preservationists to reach a deal with an undisclosed developer to find a new use for the ship.

shawj@phillynews.com

215-854-2592 @julieshawphilly

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