The potential for a $10 million annual economic impact for St. Louis and the creation of 150 new union jobs was a highlight in the recent announcement of the potential rebirth of the majestic Delta Queen river steamboat to be headquartered in St. Louis and operated by a 100 percent union crew.
The Queen is the only remaining authentic overnight river steamboat still in operable condition that has been plying the inland waterways for 85 years until ending operations in 2008, said Becky Sleeper, Seafarers Union St. Louis Port Agent. A bankruptcy forced the boat into new ownership, which turned the vessel into a dockside hotel in Chattanooga, TN. That only lasted a few years.
Now a group of previous veteran employees is working to purchase the vessel. The goal is to once again have the Delta Queen providing overnight cruise services on the Mississippi River and its inland waterways. The Queen would provide jobs for St. Louisans and a substantial economic boost for the region’s economy – an estimated $94 – $100 million over the next 10 years, not including the potential ripple effect of that money being spent in the local economy, which could double the actual impact.
At a meeting last week, those leading the group of potential new owners — the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, Inc. — met with interested investors to outline the goal of bringing back the historic steam riverboat as a profitable business, providing investors with a solid return on their stake.
The group is seeking to raise $4.1million locally towards a $10 million budget that would allow acquisition and total refurbishing of the 176-passenger steamboat.
“This would make a great investment for some of our union pension funds,” she said.
If the funds can be raised, the goal is to have the boat ready for an inaugural voyage next spring.
When the Delta Queen was originally built in 1926 for more than $1 million, it was the most expensive river steamboat every built. Considered the most celebrated steamboat in American history, the Delta Queen was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989.
With turn-of-the-century luxury accommodations (only 88 cabins), gourmet meals, onboard entertainment and shore tours at every port, the Delta Queen could become an international sensation attracting visitors from around the world to St. Louis, Sleeper said.
The project must navigate two challenges before the Delta Queen sets sail:
• Raising the $10 million to purchase and refurbish the steamboat.
• Getting Congress to modify a maritime law that says all vessels on American waterways basically need to be made of all steel as a safety precaution. However, for decades there was an exemption in the law for the Delta Queen. A bill is currently pending in the Congress to extend that exemption which expired in 2008 when the boat was docked as a floating hotel.
The new ownership group is confident that exemption can be passed once funding to buy and refurbish the Queen is in hand.