Major Long Island development firm RXR Realty has agreed to partner with the nonprofit owner of the famed ocean liner SS United States to formulate a plan for reuse of the mothballed vessel.
The ship's owner has been pushing to turn it into a permanently docked mixed-use attraction along the Hudson River in Manhattan.
“This is an extraordinarily promising development,” Susan Gibbs, executive director of the SS United States Conservancy, said in an interview. The organization has been looking for a development partner since it acquired the vessel in 2011.
Uniondale-based RXR will work on an adaptive reuse plan and suitable site for the 990-foot ship that set trans-Atlantic speed records after its launch in 1951, but which has been deteriorating at a pier in Philadelphia since 1996.
Neither party would reveal specific financial terms of the deal or how long the agreement will be in effect. “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,” Gibbs wrote to the conservancy’s members on Dec. 10.
“In connection with its work, RXR will be paying a substantial portion of the ship’s carrying costs and making other investments during this option period,” added Gibbs, granddaughter of the ship’s designer, the late William Francis Gibbs, a part-time Locust Valley resident. The conservancy pays $60,000 a month for dockage fees and other costs to keep the United States afloat.
RXR executive Vice President Seth Pinsky said Wednesday that “the SS United States is an exemplar of America’s proud maritime history. For this reason, we are very excited about the possibility of participating in its rehabilitation.”
Pinsky cautioned that “there is clearly much more work to be done before we are able to say for certain whether this possibility can become a reality and, if so, what form this reality will take.”
In the joint statement issued Dec. 10, RXR noted “our history of repurposing and updating some of this country's most historic structures.” These include the Helmsley Building and 75 Rockefeller Plaza.
Gibbs has said previously that her organization’s first choice for a home port would be New York, from where the ship originally sailed during its years of trans-Atlantic service. The conservancy has envisioned the ship serving as a multiuse facility including a museum, events space and a hotel. The organization has acquired thousands of objects originally on the ship or associated with it for the museum.
In 2016, the conservancy and high-end cruise ship operator Crystal Cruises announced that the company would evaluate buying the ship to return it to passenger service. But a $1-million feasibility study determined there were too many problems to overcome.
If the plan pans out, it would be the fourth ocean liner to be used this way, including the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, the Queen Elizabeth 2 in Dubai, and the Rotterdam in its namesake city in the Netherlands, Gibbs said.
CORRECTION: RXR Realty is working on the redevelopment of Pier 57 in Manhattan. An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect location.