Second lives for historic vessels?

It’s hard enough nowadays to find financing for newbuilds or even buy a quality used vessel. But that hasn’t daunted the dreams of folks who want to breathe new life into historical vessels.

Take the SS United States, the speed ocean liner built by Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock in 1952. It’s been at Pier 82 in Philadelphia since 1996, after being taken out of service in 1969, gutted and then going through a series of owners.

The SS United States Conservancy wants to restore its glamour and is working with developers to use it as the centerpiece of a waterfront attraction possibly in New York, Philadelphia or Miami. They acknowledged last week at Cruise Shipping Miami, the major industry trade show, that they face significant fundraising challenges in the 18 months they have to save the liner.

The purchase price in February was just under a scrap offer of $5.9 million. Monthly expenses are $60,000. The cost to make her seaworthy is $450 million to $500 million, said Gregory Norris, the conservancy treasurer. Development costs depend on whatever project a public/private partnership comes up with.

Negotiations and due diligence are under way for another historic vessel — the Delta Queen — sidelined several years ago when its congressional exemption ran out. Built in 1927, the Mississippi River steamboat is now being run as a hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“We’re in the midst of working with a party right now, but there’s nothing definitive at this point,” Hank Wolpert, a broker with the Dallas office of Colliers International Hotels, said this week.

After soliciting bids late last year, Wolpert said a deal might be completed in the first quarter. It now looks like it may be a few more months. He wouldn’t say how many bids he received or how close they were to the asking price of $4.75 million set by owner Ambassadors International.

While both vessels may find new owners/developers, they’ll likely never sail again given the cost to get them in shape for the 21st century and the changing tastes of today’s cruise passengers. But they might be worth preserving for history’s sake.

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About the author

Dale K. DuPont

Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.

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