With scrapyard looming, SS United States eyes Brooklyn move

With a deadline looming over the fate of the SS United States, a New York City-based concrete magnate has stepped forward to offer a place for the 63-year-old ship.

The conservancy that owns the vessel, which has sat berthed in South Philadelphia on the Delaware River for 19 years, announced last month that is is running short on the cash needed to maintain the ship and that it would make a decision on whether to scrap the vessel by the end of October.

John Quadrozzi Jr., whose firm owns a major pier in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, has stepped forward to offer the 990-foot ship a home.

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Quadrozzi told the Waterways Alliance, a New York-based organization dedicated to protecting and transforming New York City’s waterways, that he is looking to raise the $2 million it would cost to tow, remediate and moor the ship along the 1,300 foot Gowanus Bay Terminal.

Tom Basile, a spokesman for the SS United States Conservancy, said the organization is interested in Quadrozzi’s offer.

But it is also in talks with another New York pier owner to bring the ship there. That deal has a developer attached to it that could remodel and rehabilitate the ship’s gutted interior. Basile and other conservancy officials have declined to identify it.

It’s unclear whether Quadrozzi’s offer has a development plan attached to it — he didn’t return calls for comment. But his offer could take some of the pressure off of the conservancy, which must raise about $60,000 a month to keep the ship in South Philadelphia.

The SS United States was built after World War II as a luxury liner that could be converted quickly into a troop carrier. It’s powerful engines — whose true capabilities were a Cold War secret — helped it break the speed record for a trans-Atlantic crossing. Duke Ellington, Cary Grant and other luminaries traveled aboard her. Bill Clinton, just finished at Georgetown, traveled aboard the ship on the way to attend Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

The coming of the jet age meant the ship’s days were numbered. She was taken out of service in 1969, meaning she’s been mothballed for longer than she was in service.

Her fixtures were gutted in the 1980s and sold at auction, meaning her insides are mostly bare.

Restoring the ship to sea service is highly unlikely, but members of the conservancy have long held out hope that someone could develop it into a multi-use facility that could include a hotel, performance space, offices and banquet facilities.

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Estimates for what that would cost range around $200 million.

Officials with the conservancy say that a rehabilitation of the ship is more likely in wealthy New York, where investors would be more likely to capture a return on investment.

Roland Lewis, president and CEO of the Waterfront Alliance, said that the Red Hook area is up-and-coming. It has a mix of industrial uses, along with a new cadre of hipster residents.

In Philadelphia, the SS United States is often referred to as “that giant ship across from the IKEA.” That has driven a lot of foot traffic to the area, Lewis said.

Little will change if it moves to Brooklyn, where Quadrozzi’s pier is — you guessed it — across from New York City’s IKEA store.

“John has a spot for it, which is huge,” Lewis said. “He has a great vision to see it there as a tourist attraction and economic development project.”