Philly not eager to see ship set sail

Joe Rota first sailed on the S.S. United States in 1952, lucking into a job as a poolside elevator operator.

“In four years I spent on the ship, it was never late once,” said Rota, now a board member of what was once the world’s fastest cruise liner’s nonprofit, which yesterday announced it had finally purchased the 12-story vessel docked for years on the Delaware River. “Even once in a hurricane, it came in on time.”

Now that the ship has been saved from the metal scrap yard — the S.S. United States Conservancy purchased it for about $6 million from Norwegian Cruise Lines — local officials would like to keep the boat from setting sail to another port.

“The mayor in the near past has met with the group and talked about the future of the vessel,” said Mark McDonald, Mayor Michael Nutter’s spokesman. “The administration would like to see the ship remain in Philadelphia if there is a viable plan that would work.”

Private investors, along with help from local officials, could eventually turning the hulking, long-vacant ship into a one-of-a-kind floating hotel and entertainment complex, the conservancy’s executive director Dan McSweeney said on a tour of the inside.

Board members said yesterday that New York City and Miami officials have their eyes on bringing the ship to their city’s port to serve as a major tourist attraction. Its appeal as a floating hotel, entertainment complex and museum is unlimited.

“There’d be nothing like it anywhere,” McSweeney said, noting that the non-profit now has about 20 months to find a developer and city.

Lenfest’s booty

The ship was saved financially by one of the city’s great philanthropists, H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, who put up the cash for the purchase by the conservancy. He may also play a role in its future.

“He’s got ideas and we’re willing to hear them,” McDonald said. “You can’t have much romance without finance, so we need the finance to find the romance on that ship.”

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