Plans are being floated to return the historic ocean liner SS United States to the Hudson River, regenerate Pier 76 and connect the High Line to the ship transformed into a 1,000 room hotel.
The SS United States has languished for years at Pier 82 in Philadelphia — with the nonprofit organization, SS United States Conservancy, leading efforts to save and repurpose the legendary Transatlantic cruise ship. Now, the conservancy has announced a plan, developed in conjunction with two prominent New York firms, RXR and MCR Hotels, that would repurpose the legendary ocean liner as a unique, mixed-use destination, including a 1,000 key hotel, numerous food and beverage destinations, multiple event venues, acres of public green space and a world-class museum.
The project is being lauded by the conservancy as “a capstone to a decades-long effort to protect and revitalize the Hudson River waterfront, create thousands of new jobs, and generate millions in tax revenue annually,” in a statement.
Renderings show the SS United States berthed at Pier 76 in Hell’s Kitchen — the former NYPD Towpound that was converted to public space by Governor Andrew Cuomo during the pandemic. Plans also show the Hudson River Park pier connected to the High Line via a spur from the Western Railyards at Hudson Yards.
While in service, the liner smashed the Transatlantic speed record in 1952 using only two-thirds of her power, a record that has never been broken. From her Hudson River berth at Pier 86, she carried more than one million passengers, from celebrities like Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe and Salvador Dali and royalty to immigrants and tourists. According to the conservancy, she was also used as a top-secret convertible troop transport that could rush 14,000 troops 10,000 miles without refueling. The United States Lines focused their freight business from Pier 76, although its Transatlantic passenger service was based at Pier 86 (where USS Intrepid is now berthed).
The release of a redevelopment plan comes at a time when the SS United States faces an uncertain future. The ship faces possible eviction from her current pier in Philadelphia. The conservancy is presently in litigation over allegedly unpaid rent.
Pier 76 is already home to part of the SS United States. At the opening of the park, one of the four propellers from the ship took pride of place at the entrance to the pier.
The conservancy says that the “plan for a privately funded, commercial redevelopment identified Manhattan’s Hudson River as the optimal “home port” for the vessel, due to its proximity to transportation and pedestrian access to the Javits Convention Center.”
Although the plans have been drawn up for New York and Pier 76, the conservancy says that the “ship’s transformative potential is not restricted to New York. Other locations and port cities could benefit from the ship’s commercial revitalization and iconic status.”
RXR and MCR have teamed up with partners, including Gibbs & Cox — the vessel’s original design firm, to develop the plan. Unlike previous ideas for the ship — including relaunching it as an oceangoing liner — this seems much more than a pipe dream, with the two lead partners having experience redeveloping iconic, historic properties in New York, including Eero Saarinen’s landmark 1962 TWA Flight Center and hotel at JFK Airport as well as Hudson River Park’s Pier 57.
The nonprofit organization and its development team say they are prepared to donate the ship and the design and engineering work completed to date to expedite progress in securing a prime location for the vessel’s revitalization.
“The SS United States symbolizes the nation’s ambition and innovation. Our development partners have embraced the patriotic and economic significance of this monumental project. Through their extensive due diligence, they have created a bold and exciting plan that preserves the ship’s history and activates the vessel’s commercial potential,” said Susan Gibbs, president of the SS United States Conservancy.
“The Conservancy’s partners and passionate supporters from across the country and around the world have created a viable path forward to save the SS United States,” added Gibbs, the granddaughter of the ship’s original designer. “But we are quickly running out of time. We know this can be a viable, transformative project. Let’s rally together to secure a home for America’s Flagship.”
A Hudson River Park Trust spokesperson said: “At least three Hudson River Park Trust presidents have seen proposals to bring the SS United States to the park over the last 15-20 years. There are multiple reasons why it’s not already here. First, bringing any vessel to a pier requires that the pier be able to accommodate it. In its current physical condition, Pier 76 cannot support even a small recreational vessel, let alone one the size of the SS United States, which is 990 feet long with a draft of 31 feet. Beyond rebuilding the pier, dredging – governed by a lengthy regulatory approvals process not controlled by the Trust – would also be required.”
They added, “For these reasons alone, Hudson River Park’s Pier 76, and any other park location, cannot currently serve even as a temporary berthing site for the vessel. Long-term, Hudson River Park is in discussions with elected officials and community stakeholders about how to achieve our dual policy goals for Pier 76: creating high quality public open space for the community, and identifying a revenue-generating use for the pier that helps support maintenance of the overall park as intended by our enabling statute.”
“Pier 76 has only just been returned to the community and Hudson River Park after the tow pound finally left in 2020, and now there’s a proposal to build a wall on its western edge,” said Jeffrey LeFrancois, Chair of Manhattan Community Board 4. “While anyone has a right to envision what could be realized as a part of Pier 76’s future, this proposal is devoid of community consideration and input. It also lacks the diligent and thoughtful approach the Hudson River Park Trust has taken for the past 25 years when designing its park piers, including those that allow commercial uses.”
He added, “The renderings are nice to look at, but the community has been trying to tear waterfront walls down for decades and we’ve really come to enjoy our unimpeded views from our park piers over the Hudson River, especially at sunset.”