Will the SS United States find new life in 2014?

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SS United States – the historic American trans-Atlantic liner heading out of New York on maiden voyage. 

The people who are trying to resurrect the SS United States just won’t quit.

In April, the outlook was not good for the huge, historic vessel that has hovered like a specter over the South Philly waterfront since the mid-’90s.

The SS United States Conservancy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that serves as the ship’s caretaker, was at that time frantically trying to raise funds to help cover the steep cost – about $80,000 a month – of maintaining the ship and docking it at Pier 82 on Columbus Boulevard.

Donors from around the world contributed at least $205,000, and another $116,000 was raised by scrapping obsolete pieces of the ship that would have had to be cleared eventually by a developer, said Susan Gibbs, the conservancy’s executive director.

The influx of cash should cover the ship’s upkeep bills for the next six months or so.

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SS United States – the liner and Manhattan. 

By that time, Gibbs said, there’s hope that a redevelopment deal will finally be close at hand.

“We aren’t yet able to make an announcement about a final deal, but we’re very hopeful 2014 is going to be the year for the SS United States,” she said.

“At this point, the negotiations are confidential, but it’s fair to say that the leading prospects are in New York,” Gibbs continued. “But the Philadelphia region has not been ruled out.”

In March, the conservancy expects to unveil an SS United States exhibition at the Independence Seaport Museum.

Artifacts from the ship – which was designed by Gibbs’ grandfather, William Francis Gibbs, and launched in 1951 – will be on display, as will information about its connection to the region and its possible future.

“There are a lot of causes, a lot of challenges that the world is facing,” Gibbs said.

“Consequently, we’re trying a number of approaches at keeping the ship in the public’s eye.”
British-born author and illustrator David Macaulay, who immigrated to the U.S. onboard the SS United States, has joined the conservancy’s executive council and is penning a book about the vessel’s creation, Gibbs said.
The conservancy bought the ocean liner in 2011 with a $5.8 million donation from H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest. (He is chairman and a co-owner of Interstate General Media, which owns the Daily News.)
Attracting interest from potential developers hasn’t been difficult, but getting someone to fully commit to the project has been another story.

“We’ve been moving the ball down the field, but we haven’t quite reached the end zone,” Gibbs said. “The ship has unique engineering challenges, but it’s structurally sound and ready for its next chapter.”

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About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…