One of the most luxurious ocean liners ever built, the SS United States was and is to this day the fastest. She remains the holder of the Blue Riband for speediest transatlantic crossing—in 1952.
Yet “America’s Flagship” sits at a dingy Philadelphia pier, paint peeling off the hull, weeds sprouting in what were once well-appointed staterooms. Its nonprofit owner, the SS United States Conservancy, has tried for years to ensure its survival, but earlier this month the organization announced that despite progress toward finding a permanent home, the vessel would be sold to a metals recycler unless new donors or investors came forward. “The Conservancy has never been closer to saving the SS United States, nor so close to losing her,” read part of the statement.
The United States will not be consigned to the scrap heap if John Quadrozzi can help it. Mr. Quadrozzi, the owner of Gowanus Bay Terminal in south Red Hook, has the perfect Brooklyn pier to host the great ship, and he won’t even charge rent. Currently, the SS United States Conservancy pays $60,000 per month to the Philadelphia pier owner, and has struggled to pay the bills since purchasing the ship from Norwegian Cruise Line in 2011.
Mr. Quadrozzi and the Conservancy have been talking for more than a year about the United States coming to the Columbia Street Pier in Brooklyn, and they’re close to an agreement. “The SS United States Conservancy is intrigued with the prospect of the SS United States traveling to Gowanus and setting up home there,” Susan Gibbs, Conservancy president, told WaterWire.
Mr. Quadrozzi is getting down to brass tacks. “We need to raise two million dollars to tow the vessel to a dry dock, complete remediation and provide the basic mooring structure,” he said. “Once we get that together and bring her here, the ship is saved.”
“We already have a towing company selected,” he added. “We’re discussing a contract to lock in advantageous prices.”
As for which dry dock, he’s done his homework here, too. “She does fit into the Brooklyn Navy Yard,” he said. “But it’s going to come down to dollars and cents—the cost of moving the ship and the cost of the dry dock repairs.”
“We’re committed to making it work,” Mr. Quadrozzi told WaterWire. “I’m not saying we wouldn’t want to benefit from the value of the vessel, but we don’t want to add to the burden. We want the vessel to stop the bleeding and develop the next phase of getting the infrastructure done and attracting investors and developers.”
Mr. Quadrozzi is asking colleagues and business associates to consider the opportunities with him. “Oh yeah, every couple days I get somebody down here,” he said. “Some of the big developers are pretty intrigued. I’m not going to allow the kind of gentrifying elements that would affect our own industry, though.”
A big believer in the importance of the working waterfront, Mr. Quadrozzi is in the cement business. He owns 33 acres of underwater property and 13 acres of upland property at Gowanus Bay Terminal, where his bulk carrier MV Loujaine is now a repurposed floating cement silo. Gowanus Bay was once a busy hub of grain deliveries, part of New York’s Erie Canal barge system in the early 20th century. Mr. Quadrozzi dreams of a network of industries here that fuel each other–reuse of building materials, a waste-to-energy facility, a supplier of bio-diesel, etc. The United States, he says, will be “on the edge of industry,” its space possibly used to incubate industrial startups.
“It would be a big economic development project; it would create an enormous amount of jobs,” he said. “We want this to be the place where new business and new industry develops. It’s all going to be complementary to the industrial park that we are now expanding. We’re creating an industrial ecosystem. We want to bring the public to the terminal, and this could be a magnet unlike any other.”
“Once we get the vessel here, it’s all development,” he said. “It’ll really blossom like a flower.” The Columbia Street Pier is 1,300 feet long—a nice fit for the 990-foot-long United States—and edged by a public walkway with seating. Mr. Quadrozzi and Conservancy officials have talked about a café and catering hall on board, event space, opportunities for movie and photo shoots, and a museum that would, according to the Conservancy website, “reveal the ship’s secret features, detail the adventures of real people on the high seas, showcase the ship’s most colorful personalities, and explore the science and technology behind the world’s fastest ocean liner.”
“We’re charting a new course now,” declared Mr. Quadrozzi, who has started to fill in community stakeholders about the proposal. “Full steam ahead!”