Group: Put Philly casino on historic cruise liner

PHILADELPHIA - November 22, 2010

The 1950s-era SS United States has 650,000 square feet of usable space, and the casino project would be a great way to help preserve it, officials with the SS United States Conservancy said Monday.

"We thought that we could kill several birds with one stone," said Dan McSweeney, executive director of the SS United States Conservancy, adding that the group wants to open up a dialogue on the idea. "It solves several problems simultaneously."

The group says it has the backing of philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, who this year pledged to donate up to $5.8 million to save the SS United States, which is rusting away on the city's waterfront.

Under the proposal - which would cost $200 million to $300 million and have to be paid for by a public-private partnership - the ship would be moved and docked near the proposed site of the casino and made part of the project, along with a two-story casino building and other development on land.

Once renovations are complete, the 990-foot-long ship would have gambling on two floors, along with retail, conference center space and potentially office and performance space, McSweeney said.

In an effort to save the ship, he said, the group was also looking at other options, including potential partnerships in New York City.

The ship, which set the trans-Atlantic speed record on its maiden voyage 58 years ago, was removed from service in 1969 and has languished at a south Philadelphia pier for more than a decade. Norwegian Cruise Line bought the ship in 2003 hoping to return it to service, but put it up for sale in February.

A message left with a spokesman for the Foxwoods casino project investors was not immediately returned Monday. Last month, Foxwoods said Harrah's Entertainment Inc. was willing to invest in and manage the planned casino project, which could become the second casino in Philadelphia.

Ken Smukler, a consultant working with the conservancy, said the project could move forward in conjunction with the current license holders. Or, he said, if the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board elects to revoke the license, the conservancy could apply for it on its own, with new partners.

"We are planning this concept, this vision, into a game that's already started," Smukler said.

A spokesman for the state gaming board said the agency had not received details on the latest proposal for the casino project.

The project would be the city's second casino. In September, Philadelphia became the largest U.S. city with a casino when SugarHouse Casino opened up the river in the city's Fishtown/Northern Liberties neighborhood.

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