Initial Opinion Published Feb. 9th, 2000
This controversial opinion editorial was published in the Philadelphia Daily News
on February 9th, 2000:
The Editorial is Here on the Philly News web
Or, just read it here:
Owner of the SS United States is a real skipper
Rusting hulk? Hey, ship happens.
Mayor Street has declared war on blight, and is calling for a zero-tolerance policy on the thousands of abandoned cars littering the streets. And the Daily News has been publishing regular reports - including photos and addresses of some of the rusting offenders.
But there's a much bigger fish to fry. Meet the SS United States, mother of all abandoned vehicles. The ship's been sitting idle on the Delaware since1996.
High-speed queen of trans-Atlantic travel in the '50s, she was mothballed in 1970, effectively sunk by airlines that made cruise travel obsolete. In the '90s, the ship was bought by a Turkish-backed group. A few years later, Linden, N.J., developer Edward Cantor bought an 85 percent interest.
Cantor must have thought he was in a toy store and the "Big U" was a transformer, because what caught his fancy were the many things the ship could turn into: A casino. A hotel. A tourist attraction.
But this toy of his wouldn't turn into anything without lots and lots of money, which he didn't have, and so he towed her to Philadelphia, thinking the city could be talked into helping him raise it.
Excuse us for a moment as we climb back onto our turnip truck. Isn't that like someone towing a rusting, ugly, broken-down car into your driveway, and saying he won't remove it until you pay the repair bill?
Four years later, Cantor's car is still in our driveway. The problem is that Pier 82, where the ship sits, isn't exactly our driveway.
The Delaware River is controlled not by the city, but by the Delaware River and Regional Port Authorities. The state-run Regional Authority leases Pier 82 to H. Stevedoring, a private company, that is the landlord (or waterlord) for Cantor's company. Neither Stevedoring nor Cantor's firm will say whether the ship will ever leave, or if the $1,000 daily docking fee is actually being paid, or when funding is expected.
The city doesn't control the waters, but ought to have some control over its landscape. Right now, it can't do a thing about this once-beautiful vessel, now a massive eyesore. So we have an idea.
All those abandoned cars littering our streets, waiting for a firm with enough space to store them? Pick them up and load them onto the ship.
By our very rough calculations, we figure the United States can hold 10,000 abandoned cars - more if the cars
are crushed flat. By which point, the ship will doubtless sink from the weight.
Voila! Everyone wins. We can then pave over the half-submerged ship and build a theme park. Maybe a "Gilligan's Island" theme park. After all, there's already a theme song (with apologies to the original):
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from a Turkish port
Aboard a giant ship.
Bought by a mighty sailing man
For reasons, well, who knew?
Five corporate levels of ownership means no one has a clue, no one has a clue.
He said he had ambitions to
Transform the ship to gold,
And Philly was where it belonged;
Well, that's what we were told.
So the ship set sail and landed here,
A chartered city isle.
He thought he'd put the thing in dock
For a three-hour stay, a three-hour stay.
But money started getting tight;
Big plans had to be tossed.
Now it's a pile of scrap metal
With daily rising costs, with daily rising costs.
Four years later, the ship still sits,
A rusting hulk in port.
No one lifts a finger to
Drag it into court, drag it into court -
No laws, no rights, no public recourse,
Like Robinson Ca-rusoe.
It's as primitive as can be,
So join us here each year, my friends,
You're sure to get a smile
As we get no answers yet again,
Here on Gilligan's Isle.