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.

SS United States
SS United States at Pier 76 in a concept drawn up between the conservancy, RXR and MCR Hotels. Renderings: SS United States Conservancy

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.

SS United States
SS United States at Pier 76 in a concept drawn up between the conservancy, RXR and MCR Hotels. Renderings: SS United States Conservancy

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.  

SS United States
SS United States photographed on the West Side Hudson River piers in 1960. Photo: Library of Congress

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.”

Pier 76 SS United States Propellor
A propeller from the SS United States is already at Pier 76. Photo: Sandra Mangan

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.”

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  1. Phil, as you know, I’m a fan of the publication but I have to point out a factual error. The SS United States did NOT serve during World War II. She was completed more than five years after the war ended. The plan was, indeed, to have her easily converted into a fast-speed troop transport BUT the fast pace of technology interceded. Passenger jet air travel was in its infancy but was quickly becoming practical and proved the death knell for fast transport by troop ships. And as an interesting historical anecdote, I once spoke to a gentlemen a few year ago at the Yonkers Community Boathouse who served in the engine room aboard the SS United States. His bunk was just below one of the props and said it was extremely loud. And only once did he recall the ship approach its top speed—to outrun a hurricane. He said that standing on deck it felt like they were flying or in a speedboat and not aboard a ship of her size. There have been other ideas of turning her into a hotel/convention center, I truly hope this one can come to fruition and that there can be some agreement with the community. I would love to lead trips in my kayaking guide work by her and talk about her history!

      1. Sounds good Phil! Happy to have you. I meant to add something in the note above too…part of how the SS United States even got built was that the US govt chipped in, some estimates I’ve seen state upwards of three quarters of her $77 million original construction costs came from the govt. As you might expect that gave the govt., in turn, a lot of say in various aspects of her construction; she adhered to US Navy standards as to compartmentalization and having two separate engine rooms (in case one was flooded the other could, hopefully, continue powering the ship). Her hull was also constructed of aluminum, which cut her displacement almost by half, aprox 45,000 tons versus the Cunard Lines’ Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary each at close to 80,000 tons. With the lighter displacement and even more advanced turbine engines she could achieve (some say) 42 knots—48.3 miles per hour!

        1. Her hull is constructed of hygrade navy steel. Not aluminum. Her superstructure is of aluminum and that did make her weight to horsepower ratio unbeatable.

  2. It was a sad sight, what had been a gleaming, sleek ocean liner rusting away unloved in Philadelphia. I remember the beauty and excitement of seeing these magnificent ships lined up at the Hudson River piers. I sailed on the French Line to Southhampton. Now we have monstrous floating hotels polluting the waterfront, get rid of them and restore the SS United States to it’s rightful place.

  3. The ONLY reason for this latest ‘redevelopment’ push is simply because the ship is on the verge of being evicted from it’s current berth in Philadelphia. It’s clearly evident that the Conservancy is desperate for a solution since they are using language now that includes ‘donating’ the ship to the right party.
    Sounds like they should have played nice with their landlord instead of whining about the dockage increase. Sadly this will never be pulled off. They have run out of time. The Conservancy in my opinion has focused for too long in the dreamy world of artist renderings and cocktail parties. Should have opened it to the public years ago in Philly, made improvements along the way and given the pier owners a piece of the action. Could have at least supplemented the dockage fees. After Crystal cruises backed out that should have been the final red flag. The Conservancy should have been making preparations for an artificial reef candidate. Instead they have kept their heads in the clouds. The bar has been set too high and now the next announcement will be the ship is headed to the scrapyard.
    Truly a shame.

    1. Philadelphia wanted to get rid of the ship as far back as 2006, when they drew up redevelopment plans for the waterfront

  4. Say what you want, the notion of having a moored vessel in the metro area as sleep quarters is nothing new. The most recent, and similar (as someone might bring it up, the NYC DOC has a controversial floating dormitory barge moored near Riker’s Island) example from decades past, in fact, the SS United States would have sailed right past her during her last two years of service in 1968 to 1969: the SS Stevens was just south and across the river from Pier 76 at the Stevens Institute. True, she was only half the size of the SS United States but she served as a floating dormitory for about 150 students while parked along the Castle Point bluff from 1968 to 1975.

  5. I think that is a wonderful idea, and a fitting tribute to an ocean going vessel, with so much history. And it would provide numerous jobs and be a tourist destination… I hope that this “decision by committee” in place in this city comes to their senses and allows us to go forward.!!!!!

    1. Really ? Personally I think Hell’s Kitchen is already over crowded, I once had a patch of blue and a sliver of view of the Hudson River, no longer as huge ugly buildings are erected daily.

    2. You’re so right. That’s what they told us Hudson Yards was supposed to be. Nothing is too good for the rich.

  6. I’m all for this idea! Pier 76 needs an anchor (pun intended) to attract people. Otherwise it’s completely off the beaten track. Yes, we also need more housing but we can do two things at once. In 4th grade, back in the 50’s my class trip was a tour of the SS United States on the Hudson. Very cool.

  7. The rusting hulk is emblematic of all that is wrong with Philadelphia. Give it to NYC and goodbye to an eyesore. Good luck converting it into anything. Should be sunk as an artificial reef where is will do some good.

  8. If NYC doesn’t want it, try Patriots Point in the Charleston, SC harbor I think South Carolina has the vision for such a project.

  9. The City insists on Congestion Pricing because there is too much congestion – and then keeps enabling overdevelopment that generate more vehicles and create more congestion.

    There is no need to “revitalize “ the area – it is fine as is.


  10. Pier 76 is a rare free scenic area that skaters, bladers, runners, locals, and tourists are enjoying even before it’s reached its full public park potential. I agree with our community board that the development plans don’t consider current and future Hell’s Kitchen residents and NYC needs enough. 🛼

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