The world’s fastest cruise ship has been slow to attract anyone who wants it until recently.
Now the owner of the SS United States is reporting that it may have a buyer by early next year.
The vessel, docked at Pier 82 near the east side of Snyder Avenue, belongs to Cantor Co. — a Linden, N.J.-based construction firm known as Edward A. Cantor Construction Co. before Cantor’s death in February.
According to a conversation with Cantor spokesperson Robert Fair posted on www.ss-united-states.com earlier this month, the owners of the ship have asked a metal dealer to assess its value for scrap.
At the same time, several proposals to preserve the ship have surfaced. Fair, who reportedly is not discussing the details of any of these plans, could not be reached for comment.
One proposal that seems far-fetched yet rooted in good intentions comes from a Delaware County-based Internet company that wants to make the SS United States an attraction on the Chester waterfront.
Sean Joyce, director of business operations for FireCompanies.com, said his company is campaigning for the historic ship to become a waterfront hotel or conference center.
FireCompanies.com designs Web sites for fire departments from Florida to Maine, which would make it an odd partner for a 50-year-old ocean liner. Joyce explained the idea struck when he and a coworker were returning from New Jersey on the Walt Whitman Bridge.
They saw the 990-foot ship, Joyce said, and envisioned it becoming a part of the rebirth of Chester’s waterfront. Plans for the waterfront include a race track built by the owners of Philadelphia Park, a 500-room hotel, a 1,100-seat Imax theater and a concert venue just south of the Commodore Barry Bridge.
Joyce wrote a letter published in the Daily Times of Delaware County outlining his idea and said he has received 500 favorable e-mail responses.
"Imagine coming over from Jersey on the Commodore Barry Bridge and seeing that sitting right there," he said.
Joyce admitted it would be impossible for his small company to purchase the ship, but he and the owners of his business have requested a meeting with Delaware County U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon to pitch their idea.
"Why scrap it if people are interested?" Joyce asked. "Use it to revitalize the waterfront in a city that obviously could use the help."
Robert Hudson Westover, chairman of the SS United States Foundation, an organization fighting to preserve the ship, said he is familiar with FireCompanies’ grassroots campaign.
"It’s a noble effort by these guys to try and bring the ship there," said Westover, author of SS United States: Fastest Ship in the World, "and I really hope they are able to do it."
Less is known about interest in the ship from a Washington, D.C. developer named Sam Bradstreet.
Last July, Manhattan-based developer Original Ventures hinted at another plan to move the vessel to the Hudson River outside New York and convert it into a floating hotel and entertainment center. Nothing further has been reported on that proposal.
DiCicco to introduce IKEA bill
Councilman Frank DiCicco announced yesterday that he would introduce legislation at today’s Council session to enable IKEA to come to South Philadelphia.
The bill would allow IKEA to stay on track with plans to open the new location by spring 2004.
"As a result of several meetings with IKEA’s representatives, the bill provides a winning formula for all of the parties involved in this important project," stated a release from DiCicco’s office.
The proposal by the Swedish furniture retailer to build a 300,000-square-foot store at Columbus Boulevard and Snyder Avenue had been stalled by competing interests.
The 45-acre site, currently owned by CSX Corp., must be rezoned from industrial to commercial use for IKEA to build there. The Philadelphia Regional Port Authority had argued the property should be preserved for seaport business.
IKEA officials have predicted a Philadelphia-based furniture store would employ 500 people and generate $100 million in annual sales.
"I think [IKEA] should be here. I want them here," DiCicco said last week before announcing his bill, "but it is not as easy as it appears."
The councilman acknowledged that rezoning the site potentially limits the growth of seaport business, and not just by eating up prime industrial real estate. It also puts a premium on the remaining undeveloped property in the area and could send prices skyrocketing, he said.
It was not clear at press time how the parties had reconciled their concerns, but DiCicco said last week that a compromise was in the works. The parties involved were negotiating a deal for CSX to sell the other land it has on the market to PRPA, the councilman said.
PRPA’s board of directors discussed IKEA and the deals being negotiated and voted to take no formal action during its monthly meeting last Thursday, said William B. McLaughlin, the agency’s director of governmental and public affairs.
In a statement, DiCicco described his bill as a "win-win-win" scenario for everyone involved.
No movement on property taxes
"The word is out. We are not going to win this one anyway," Councilman DiCicco said to no one in particular as his Council mates voted a week ago against un-tabling his bill to freeze property taxes at 2001 levels while the body considers a permanent solution.
"The taxpayers get screwed again," he declared as his motion was defeated by a 10-7 margin.
Aside from DiCicco’s comments, the decision came quickly and quietly. The councilman did not wheel in 3,000 returned appeals applications that had been deemed undeliverable like he did two weeks ago. Nor did he and Seventh District Councilman Rick Mariano disrupt the proceedings with an argument, as they had last time.
In the end, the members lined up just as they had for the previous vote that tabled the legislation. Councilman-at-Large Thacher Longstreth, who was not present for the first vote, showed up to vote against it this time around.
Supporting DiCicco were James Kenney, Anna Verna, Michael Nutter, David Cohen, Marian Tasco and Angel Ortiz.
Against him were Longstreth, Frank Rizzo Jr., Mariano, Blondell Reynolds Brown, Wilson Goode Jr., Joan Krajewski, Brian O’Neill, Donna Miller, Jannie Blackwell and Darrell Clarke.
Several property-tax bills remain in play in Council. DiCicco said he favors bills introduced by Council President Verna and Councilman Nutter — both of which DiCicco cosponsored. Those bills seek to cap property-tax increases at 10 percent annually.