A U.S. Senate committee has approved restoring a longtime exemption that would put the 1920s era Delta Queen steamboat back in business. The exemption would be from a law which bars wooden passenger vessels from taking overnight cruises. If the full Senate passes the measure sponsored by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), the move would go along with the riverboat company’s plans to locate its headquarters and the Delta Queen’s home port in the east-central Missouri town of Kimmswick.
The company has already opened a restaurant in Kimmswick, which is located in Jefferson County. The plans are expected to create about 170 jobs and have a $34 million economic impact on that community.
President and CEO Cornel Martin tells Missourinet the cruise ship has not been able to travel down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers since the exemption expired in 2008, causing a financial impact on the company.
“As a cruise vessel, should would generate upwards of $15 to 18 million a year in cruise revenue. As a dockside hotel, she was generating probably $1.5 million per year in hotel revenue,” says Martin. “She consistently ran between 96 and 98% occupancy and that’s because she has a huge fan base and she’s so unique.”
From 2009 to 2014, the boat was a dockside hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The boat is now in Louisiana awaiting passage of the legislation.
To comply with the law’s safety concerns, the company would have to make $7 to $10 million in upgrades. Martin says it would take about eight months to complete those improvements.
The boilers would be replaced with much more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly ones. The main steam line, which dates back to its original construction in the 1920s, would also be swapped out. The wood onboard would be reduced by about 10% per year to address fire hazard concerns.
The Delta Queen has been declared a national historic landmark. The 177-passenger cruise ship is known for carrying Presidents, celebrities and royalty. It also served proudly in the Navy in World War II.