Conservancy Floats Idea to Turn Historic Ship into Casino

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November 23, 2010; Source: The Mercury | A nonprofit conservation group wants to take a chance on turning an historic ocean liner rusting on the Delaware River into the home of a casino planned for the Philadelphia waterfront. Dan McSweeney, executive director of the SS United States Conservancy, named for the ocean liner which has been out of commission since 1996, says the idea “solves several problems simultaneously,” including saving the ship and getting the long-stalled casino project moving again.

The 990-foot long ship contains more than 650,000 square feet of space that could be converted into two floors of gambling space. All other logistics aside, such as moving the ship and docking it near the site of the proposed casino, the big challenge is coming up with the money for the project. The proposal carries a $200 million to $300 million price tag. So far the only funds that appear to be pledged—at least for the conservancy to buy the ship from its current owners—are up to $5.8 million from Philadelphia media entrepreneur and philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, according to the Associated Press.

McSweeney is floating the idea that the project could be paid for by a public-private partnership.  So far neither the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board nor potential investors in the Philadelphia casino project have commented on the idea.  If this gamble fails, McSweeney says there are other options for saving the ship, including what the AP describes as “potential partnerships in New York City.”

Partly paid for with government money, the SS United States Conservancy is the largest ocean liner constructed entirely in the United States. On its maiden voyage in 1958, the ship set the speed record for crossing the Atlantic.—Bruce Trachtenberg