published Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Operators rally to keep Delta Queen docked here


by Brittany Cofer
  • photo
    Angela Lewis File Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press The Delta Queen is shown docked at Ross's Landing in Chattanooga.

The Delta Queen's days in Chattanooga could be numbered if a local effort to establish a nonprofit for the purchase of the 83-year-old steamboat doesn't pull through.

Though the Delta Queen has been listed for sale since late 2008 by its owner, Seattle-based Ambassadors International Inc., operators of the steamboat and hotel docked at Coolidge Park are worried about it being sold and moved from the city.

Delta Queen LLC leases the steamboat on a month-to-month basis, said Leah Ann Ingram, who operates the steamboat and holds its lease agreement with her husband, Randy.

"The boat is a huge asset and a huge national and international draw for Chattanooga, and we just want to keep her here," she said. "A lot of the people who have come and looked at her, they want to take her apart and do different things with her and not preserve her American history."

RALLY ON THE RIVER

* When: Noon-10 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4

* What: Tours of the boat begin at noon, with a calliope concert at 4 p.m., progressive dinner at 6:30 p.m. and live entertainment and desserts at 8 p.m.

* Cost: Tours are $8 for adults, $4 for children 12 and younger; overnight packages that include two tickets to the progressive dinner, entertainment event and a standard or deluxe cabin are $389 per couple.

* Information: For reservations or more information, call 413-3804

Ingram said she and her husband have been rallying support to establish the Delta Queen Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit organization to purchase the steamboat, listed at $4.75 million. She said negotiations are ongoing with Ambassadors International about the asking price.

"Ambassadors is interested in continuing the legacy of the Delta Queen and will evaluate proposals from interested parties who wish to purchase [it]," Vanessa Bloy, spokeswoman for the company, said in an e-mailed statement to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

If nonprofit status is approved and the foundation is able to purchase the steamboat, the group would be responsible for keeping the boilers, engine, wheel and paddle running, Ingram said, while a for-profit organization would operate the hotel portion.

Julie Dodson, director of marketing for the Delta Queen, said she is confident it will receive nonprofit status but doesn't know when.

The Ingrams are planning a "Rally on the River" event next week to gauge support for keeping the Delta Queen in Chattanooga.

Proceeds from the Nov. 4 event will go toward the preservation foundation, and attendees can make pledge donations that will be used toward the purchase of the boat. The rally will include guided tours, a calliope concert featuring the Belle of Cincinnati, the Southern Belle and the Delta Queen, a dinner and live entertainment.

Ingram said the event is critical to getting the support and money needed to keep the historic steamboat in Chattanooga.

The Delta Queen, originally built as a passenger vessel, was used by the Navy to ferry wounded troops during World War II.

It spent years as an overnight passenger vessel on the West Coast and in New Orleans until late 2008 when Congress failed to renew the steamboat's exemption to a law prohibiting wooden structures from carrying 50 or more passengers overnight.

In early 2009, the boat relocated to Chattanooga and has been used as a boutique hotel since.

"I think it's a very important part of history, American history, that Chattanooga can be involved in and, since we are a river city, there's a lot of other cities that would love to be sitting in our position," Ingram said. "It would be a great loss for Chattanooga to lose her."

Contact Brittany Cofer at bcofer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/brittanycofer.

about Brittany Cofer...

Brittany Cofer is a business reporter who has been with the Chattanooga Times Free Press since January 2010. She previously worked as a general assignment Metro reporter. In the Business department, she covers banking, retail, tourism, consumer issues and green issues. Brittany is from Conyers, Ga., and spent two years at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., before transferring to the University of Georgia. She graduated from the university’s Grady College of Journalism in December ...

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Riverexplorer said...

I hope the citizenry of Chattanooga answers this call to arms.

The DELTA QUEEN will much more than preserve history. She will continue to collect much needed tax dollars for Chattanooga, create tourism dollars in Chattanooga, create jobs for many Chattanoogans, and give Chattanooga a unique place in her history and the history of the American River Steamboat.

I could talk about her history for hours...but, the economic benefit to Chattanooga is the point here. For a small donation you could preserve much more for Chattanooga than a piece of history, you could guarantee the future of a tax-paying (hotel) entity, an employer, and a tourist attraction. The beauty of this is whole situation is the boat is a no loss investment. For as long as she is preserved here, the boat will continue to contribute to the local economy.

What is my connection to the boat and why am I carrying her torch? I am a former crew member of several years who saw first hand the attention this world renown steamboat attracted when she was running. I know the economic benefit she brought to every town she landed at. Unfortunately, I know the effect her discontinued operation has had on these same towns. People once came from all over the world to ride her, now they travel from all over the world to see her. While in Chattanooga they spend money on many things, not only the boat. Most of her guests were and continue to be affluent members of society...a group Chattanooga could benefit greatly from having in their community. Chattanooga is a beautiful city, with alot to offer these guests. I have been a guest at the hotel myself. While in your city I have visited many tourist attractions (the Tennessee Aquarium, the SOUTHERN BELLE, the Imax Theatre, multiple restaurants, the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, Look Out Mountain...my point being, most of the DELTA QUEEN's guests will do the same.

Please, get behind this great opportunity before it is gone. For if she leaves, she may not be preserved...but, worse, Chattanooga loses the economic benefit of her revenue.

Thank you,

Travis C. Vasconcelos (Former DELTA QUEEN Riverlorian) Louisville, KY.

October 27, 2010 at 11:37 a.m.
harrystatel said...

Good Luck (as long as not one taxpayer penny, no Chattanooga City Council loans or grants, no Federal grants, no State grants are used).

No taxpayer funds. None.

Harry Statel

(Counting the days until Chattanooga/Hamilton County government uses taxpayer's money to buy/support/endow this two-year old Chattanooga 'Landmark' with the typical government battle cry "Damn the Taxpayers—Full Funding Ahead!"

October 27, 2010 at 3:52 p.m.
RoosterCogburn said...

You know sometmes we need to put aside, what might be perceived as, good business judgment and go for something that might be important to future generations and have a more signifigant impact on our culture and quality of life. It's entirely possible that future generations might not ever get to see a paddle wheeler like the Delta Queen again and, what a great place to see her, here in Chattanooga, the river city. I remember years ago they were gonna close the Grand Ole Opry, they were gonna tear down the Tivoli, they were gonna raze Engle Stadium.....well thank goodness someone had the clear thought not to do these things and we are better for it......Think about it.

October 28, 2010 at 11:12 p.m.
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