Under separate control, and with some of them closed to the public, these impressive assets can’t serve Philadelphia well as attractions.
Local, state, and federal politicians should put their heads together. Rather than counting on dozens of Lenfests to front all the money needed to attract people to Philadelphia’s waterfront, they should tap the government’s resources.
Federal help is needed to reshape the waterfront into something more than unbuilt casinos, half-empty condominiums, drab hotels, and havens for tax dodgers. Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation should seek money to bring together the waterfront’s assets in a coup of commerce and history that would make other cities’ boosters jealous.
These ships and sites should be opened to the public. They should be managed and marketed together. Visitors should be able to buy a discount ticket to see them all.
The Olympia should not be sunk or scrapped, but saved and sold as the waterfront’s most unique item. The New Jersey must either be moved across the river or made reachable by a dedicated museum boat service from Penn’s Landing.
The same ticket ought to allow visitors to reach the navy yard by bus. The yard and its ships should be opened to the public as part of the scheme. Former workers should be sought out to tell visitors what they know. The yard still has a living history.
The public-private vision of the Conservancy seeking to save the United States makes sense for the ocean liner. With the Moshulu, it ought to be marketed alongside the other, less commercial attractions, giving visitors a choice. Properly developed, the United States could be the most interesting mall in the country, with restaurants and clubs to boot. It should stay in Philadelphia.
Finally, a big parking tower should be built at Penn’s Landing to serve the museum. Visitors don’t like to be cheated by Philadelphia’s garage and lot owners. The garage should not be exorbitantly priced. Coincidentally, that might put downward pressure on the prices that Philadelphians pay at other lots and garages. Building it would also produce construction jobs, which mysteriously often prove to be an important consideration in determining whether such projects go forward.
Doing all this would impress upon visitors that Philadelphia’s waterfront has something to offer. That has always been true; the question is whether the city’s leaders will do their part to let people know it.