SS United States to have casino role?

The SS United States could house a floating casino. The SS United States Conservancy is working to find a way to raise the cash to exercise the purchase option that it holds to buy the ship from its owners, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL)/Genting, Hong Kong.

That option expires on January 31, 2011, and the Conservancy has been hustling to do what it needs to take title to the historic transatlantic liner. Meantime, casino giant Harrah's and its local partner, Philadelphia Entertainment and Development Partners (PEDP), also face a deadline. By December 10, they must show the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board that they have gotten commitments for a proposed development in South Philadelphia on what's called "the Foxwoods site," or face losing a gaming license issued four years ago.

The Foxwoods site is located on the Delaware River between Philadelphia's Reed and Tasker streets.

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The SS United States Conservancy is set to unveil a feasibility study that proposes making the "Big U" the focus of a development at the site that would make the ship the center piece of a complex that incorporates hotel space, restaurants, retail and office space, residential development, parkland and a marina, nature reserves, and (no surprise) a casino.

Though initial casino development would be in the shoreside part of the complex, casino facilities on the liner would follow.

Though casinos are now the norm aboard most cruise ships, under U.S.-flag laws then (and now) there was no casino on the SS United States when it was an active ocean liner.

The study is the work of Stephen Varenhorst Architects (SVA) and consultant Ken Smukler and was commissioned by the conservancy with support from a generous grant from Philadelphia philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest.

When Mr. Smukler is not a "consultant," by the way, he is a well-known Philadelphia area political operative.

One powerful political advocate for the conservancy's proposals is likely to be Mayor Michael Nutter. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, he calls the proposal "certainly one of the most unique, dynamic, and exciting plans for a casino anywhere in the United States of America."

If the casino plan doesn't fly, the conservancy says it also continue to explore other possible development plans for the vessel, including several in cities other than Philadelphia.

The conservancy is making it plain that the SS United States is still a long way from being saved. It says that Mr. Lenfest's $5.8 million pledge, announced in July, is "the first step of a long journey toward redeveloping the vessel as a stationary attraction. Much work at significant cost lies ahead of us."

It is asking supporters to consider making a year-end tax deductible contribution to its ongoing efforts by visiting its online donation page.