A story that appeared Dec. 21 contained an inaccurate description of the ocean liner S.S. United States and incorrectly listed the discount that a West Coast promoter plans to offer people who invest in his plan to refurbish the ship. Under the proposal by United States Cruises Inc., purchasers in a time-sharing plan will be able to obtain 60 percent discounts on cruises on the ship. The ship, currently mothballed in Norfolk, does not have wooden interiors. Engines on the ship have been preserved and can be restored to their original capacity with a minimal amount of work. United States Cruises entered into a contract with the Maritime Adminstration to purchase the ship in September 1978.
The Prince of Peace Foundation wanted to turn the ship into a floating mission that would take Christianity around the world on a port-by-port basis. A small Washington research organization argued the ship should become a 990-foot-long think tank that would ferry scholars across the seas to solve humanity's problems. A Virginia promoter claimed he could transform the ship into an ocean-going condominium with the help of the late Howard Hughes. A federal court, disbelieving his scheme, sentenced him to jail on mail fraud charges.
Now Hawaii developer Richard H. Hadley is proposing to pull the rusting superliner S. S. United States from the Norfolk pier where it has been in mothballs for the past six years and recommission it as a luxurious cruise ship "for the very rich." Hadley would remake the ship with a casino, disco, tennis courts, and a half-acre of shops and boutiques.
Maritime Administration spokesman Walter Oates says he has watched "odd-ball proposals" for the ship pass through the agency like so many ships in the night. Oates said yesterday he had no idea whether Hadley's plan would succeed, but added, "then he's throwing a lot of money around."
Hadley, 58, who owns and manages offices buildings and resorts in Seattle and Honolulu, has gone further than any of the ship's would-be owners. He has made a $1.1 million down payment toward the $5 million purchase of the ship, and says he will close the deal early net year.
"If he doesn't come up with the rest of the money he's going to lose his down payment," warns Leonard Dickstein, a Maritime Administration lawyer. "we made that a part of the agreement to protect ourselves."
Hadley said he won't lose the money and that he will "definitely make the remaining $3.9 million payment by early February, in time to launch the ship on an around-the-world cruise in 1981.
To do that Hadley figures he'll need $35 million just to refurbish the 27-year-old ocean liner whose top speed of 38 knots was once a military secret. 2Hadley plans to raise the funds with a bizarre financing plan that employs dozens of salesmen located in 10 cities around the country, including Alexandria.
Under his plan, would-be vacationers can pay from $11,500 to $149,500 for the right to obtain cruises on the ship over the next 20 years at a 40 percent discount. The more expensive the purchase, the larger the stateroom the purchaser can obtain.
"If you're affluent and like to cruise, this will be the only way to go," Hadley says. Even so, he gives no guarantee beyond his word that the ship, which he says will carry 1,200 passengers and a crew of 500, will ever leave Norfolk. "That's a risk you have to take," he said in a telephone interview. "But I don't intend to fail."
Hadley's plans are similiar to socalled time-sharing plans in which vacationers purchase the rights to use a vacation resort for a predetermined amount of time in the future, often at discount in price. Those plans have proved somewhat controversial in the travel industry with critics charging that vactioners often can beat the time-sharing costs through conventional plans.
"It's hard to say whether he [Hadley] will succeed or not," said George Sotir, vice president of San Francisco-based Royal Viking Line. "His time-sharing plan has never been tried before so we don't know whether it will work."
Sotir said inflation has made cruises competitive with many resort vacations. "Shorter cruises -- sometimes less than a week long -- are now very popular," he said.
In the past, entrepreneurs who have wanted to get the United States back on the seas have said their efforts have been frustrated by the high cost of first repairing and then operating the ship. Since its construction was subsidized by the federal government, the Maritime Administration has insisted that it must, under U.S. law, continue to fly the American flag. That means it will have to have meet American safety standards and be staffed by American crew members, who are paid among the highest wages of merchant sailors anywhere in the world.
It was those same factors, some maritime authorities say, that forced United States Lines in 1973 to give up trying to make a profit with the ship. The United States failed to be a commercial success despite more than $118 million in federal subsidies between 1955 and 1969, said the Maritime Administrations's Oates.
Oates said that unlike dozens of other promoters who have expressed an interest in the 38,000-ton ship, Hadley is "the only one who's ever produced any money. The Prince of Peace Foundation offered us one silver dollar as a good faith deposit. Everyone else promised to send the money, but the checks never got here," he said.
Dock strikes, labor problems, and the success of commercial airlines contributed to the failure of the ship, Oates said.
Since the ship was berthed in Norfolk, its once-elegant wooden interiors have rotted, parts of its metal super-structure have rusted, and its engines have lost most of their effectiveness.
Attempts by the Maritime Administration to sell the vessel for $14 million in 1974, and for $7.5 million in 1976, collapsed when all of the bidders failed to produce the required 10 percent downpayment, he said. When Hadley approached the agency two months ago, it agreed to sell the ship for $5 million.