Operators of the Delta Queen say they are a step closer to ensuring the historic riverboat stays in Chattanooga.
Leah Ann Ingram and her husband, Randy, who have operated the 83-year-old riverboat and hotel since August, announced Friday they have submitted a letter of intent to purchase the vessel from Seattle-based Ambassadors International Inc.
The steamboat has been for sale since 2008, but the parent company issued a call for offers this week, requesting letters of intent.
"The letter of intent is basically the bid process," said Leah Ann Ingram, adding that bids would be closed after Friday. "They'll take all of them to the board, then will make the counteroffers or offer. We don't really have a time frame at this point."
Vanessa Bloy, a spokeswoman for Ambassadors International, said the company is "currently reviewing offers from all qualified applicants," and did not say when a decision would be announced.
The Ingrams are in the process of forming a nonprofit organization, the Delta Queen Preservation Foundation, that would allow charitable contributions, historic preservation grants and other tax deductible donations to preserve the vessel.
Although Ingram said she can't discuss the price in the letter of intent that was sent to Ambassadors International, she indicated the $4.75 million asking price might go down.
"I don't think it's going to be as much about price as how quick they can sell it," she said.
If she and her husband are able to purchase the Delta Queen through a nonprofit group, she said she is unsure whether the vessel would remain docked at Coolidge Park or go down the river.
That could be good news to some who would like to see a less cluttered downtown landscape.
John Jernigan, a 14-year Chattanooga resident, said he thinks the boat is "in the wrong place" right now.
"It takes away from Coolidge Park because you can't see any of the downtown skyline," he said. "When you're in Coolidge, you want to see the mountains and the beauty of Chattanooga. I think it takes away from that."
Jernigan said he'd like to see the boat move downstream, a notion Ingram said she might consider.
"We want to be a good neighbor and a good partner with the city and bring in tax dollars like any other business would do," she said.
And part of her plan to help continue to bring in revenue is to restore the Delta Queen and have it ready to operate as a passenger vessel once again if the opportunity presents itself. In 2008, Congress failed to renew the steamboat's exemption to a law prohibiting wooden structures from carrying 50 or more passengers overnight, effectively ending its tenure as a passenger vessel.
"If the exemption did come back around, we would go after a COI (certificate of inspection) from the Coast Guard," Ingram said, adding the riverboat would also require a new boiler system and several other mechanical tweaks to ready it for excursions.
Contact staff writer Brittany Cofer at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/brittanycofer.