SS United States Conservancy Reaches Deal to Explore Redevelopment of Famed Ocean Liner

SS United States

Photo: Brian W. Schaller

The SS United States Conservancy has entered into an agreement with commercial real estate development firm RXR Realty to explore options for the revitalization of the historic SS United States. 

According to the Conservancy, over the next several months RXR Realty will be working to determine the viability of the SS United States’ redevelopment and will explore a range of potential locations for the historic vessel. In connection with its work, RXR will also be paying a substantial portion of the ship’s carrying costs and making other investments during this option period, including assembling a team to assess the vessel’s interior spaces and explore concepts for the ship’s revitalization. 

The SS United States, aka “America’s Flagship”, has faced an uncertain future in recent years. In 2015, the SS United States Conservancy, which owns the transatlantic liner, was nearly forced to the scrapping of the ship due to mounting costs, only to be saved by an outpouring of public support that helped the Conservancy raise an additional $600,000 to save the ship. The following year, Los Angeles-based Crystal Cruises reached an agreement to purchase the iconic 1950’s era vessel with the goal of converting it into a modern, luxury cruise ship in compliance with all modern safety, environmental, and technical standards. But ultimately that deal too fell through after a technical feasibility study determined that the plan was a little too far fetched. Crystal instead ended up donating $350,000 to the Conservancy to help with ongoing costs.

Now, RXR Realty will go through its own due diligence process, but both sides are hopeful that a plan can be reached to redevelop the ship. 

“The SS United States is one of America’s great vessels and an icon of American engineering and design,” RXR Realty says. “Given our history of repurposing and updating some of this country’s most historic structures, we are now working with the SS United States Conservancy to explore what options might exist for the ship, going forward. We are currently at the very beginning of this process – a process that will require substantial work on all sides. At the end of this period, we will have a better sense as to whether we have a viable plan and, if so, the specifics of that plan and in which waterfront community it might be actualized.“

The SS United States has been laid up at a dock in Philadelphia since 1996.

Crystal’s latest project: Restore the SS United States

Crystal’s rendering of a restored SS United States.

NEW YORK — Crystal Cruises on Thursday revealed a grand plan to transform the SS United States — a mothballed, 65-year-old ocean liner — into a modern, luxury cruise vessel.

The ship has been docked in Philadelphia since 1996.

Edie Rodriguez, Crystal’s CEO, revealed the company’s plans today along with the ship’s current owner, the SS United States Conservancy, at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal here. Rodriguez said Crystal would cover all costs associated with preserving the ship while it undergoes a technical feasibility study to determine if it can be revitalized.

Edie Rodriguez said Crystal would cover all costs associated with preserving the ship while it undergoes a technical feasibility study. Photo Credit: Arnie Weissmann
Edie Rodriguez said Crystal would cover all costs associated with preserving the ship while it undergoes a technical feasibility study.Photo Credit: Arnie Weissmann

 

Crystal plans to transform the liner into an 800-passenger, 400-suite vessel called the United States by Crystal Cruises, preserving historical elements of the original United States, such as its promenade and Navajo Lounge. Crystal said it would be rebuilt extensively to meet current standards and would be in full regulatory compliance.

“Our goal is that it reemerge as a modern luxury vessel,” Rodriguez said, adding that the vessel would have the same 1.6 passenger-to-crew ratio as the 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity. “It is our aspiration that it emerges as America’s flagship again.”

Susan Gibbs, executive director of the SS United States Conservancy and granddaughter the ship’s designer, William Francis Gibbs, said the conservancy planned to develop a land-based museum dedicated to the United States, and hoped to anchor it in New York.

She conceded that the liner “obviously needs upgrades” in order to “adhere to 60 years of rules and regulations.”

“Change is both exhilarating and challenging,” she said.

This is the second time that Crystal’s owner, Genting Hong Kong, will own the storied ocean liner, long known as the Big U.

Genting’s Star Cruises purchased the United States in 2003, intending to operate the ship as part of NCL America, Norwegian’s U.S.-flagged fleet operating in Hawaii. (Star Cruises owned 100% of Norwegian Cruise Line at the time.)

NCL’s U.S.-flagged operations did not grow as planned, and the SS United States Conservancy purchased the United States from Norwegian/Genting in order to save it from being sent to a scrapyard.

The United States still holds the “Blue Riband” record for fastest transatlantic speed, set in 1952 on its maiden voyage from New York to England.