Day boaters say big commercial vessels hogging Chattanooga waterfront

Day boaters say big commercial vessels hogging Chattanooga waterfront

May 24th, 2009 by Lauren Gregory in News

Staff Photo by Dan Henry The Delta Queen, currently docked near Coolidge Park in downtown Chattanooga, is waiting for approval to be open to the public. The ship has been a permanent fixture to the Chattanooga waterfront for the past month and is expected to open for overnight guests in May.

Longtime boater Charles Rollins always thought Chattanooga's waterfront was designed with his interests in mind.

But lately, he says, he's noticed that the average recreational mariner is being edged out of the picture. The city seems to be offering all the prime real estate near Ross's Landing and Coolidge Park to larger, tourist-drawing, money-making vessels, he says.

"I think it's totally unfair," Mr. Rollins said. "All those big boats they've got parked down there, they just sit and they never move, and we can't get in."

Glynn Hodges, of Signal Mountain, says he's more than once arrived downtown by boat for the evening but couldn't find a place to dock. He's had to turn the boat around, go back to Brown's Ferry Marina and drive a car back to town, he said.

"It doesn't follow the initial plans that I understood for the downtown dock space," Mr. Hodges said.

Mike Mooneyham is general manager of MarineMax, the company Chattanooga hired to manage recreational and day parking.

He acknowledges that some space originally designated for free, four-hour day parking is gone. But, he added quickly, there's still plenty to go around.

"I could understand their gripe if the city were to add more commercial vessels and take up all their space," Mr. Mooneyham said. "But there are still places for the recreational boater or I would be screaming. Those are my customers."

plenty of room?

There are two day parking areas, one 250 feet long and the other 270 feet long, near Ross's Landing, according to Mr. Mooneyham. Recreational boaters can park free for four hours. To stay overnight, they must hook up to a residential dock for $1 per foot per night.

The city has allowed the Tennessee Aquarium's River Gorge Explorer to dock in the recreational area, he said, and it takes up about 60 feet of space.

The aquarium pays the city $750 a month to dock there, city records show, plus a surcharge of 50 cents per passenger. On May 8, the aquarium paid $1,237 in passenger fees for February and March, records show.

But that one boat shouldn't be a problem for day boaters, said Mr. Mooneyham. He said he never sees recreational slips fill up except during special events such as Riverbend.

However, Mr. Mooneyham said he did see problems last year, when the city allowed local entrepreneur Harry Phillips to park his 167-foot Leisure Lady vessel in the middle of the recreational parking area for much of the boating season.

Mr. Phillips eventually was asked to move the boat to the North Shore, where there hasn't been as much demand for day boat parking, city Parks and Recreation Administrator Larry Zehnder said.

Mr. Phillips could not be reached for comment Friday. The boat is still parked along the North Shore.

Mr. Phillips, who also owns the Fat Cat Ferry, Chattanooga Water Taxi and Delta Queen, has maintained that his berthing contract with the city allowed him to keep the Leisure Lady at the Chattanooga Pier, Mr. Zehnder said.

Chattanooga officials put water taxi service out to bid in 2006, and records show Mr. Phillips was the lone bidder. He agreed to pay $500 plus 1 percent of his monthly gross income to use the North Shore and $250 plus 1 percent of monthly gross income for the South Shore.

The five-year contract allows water taxi service from both shores and "floating commercial structures" on the North Shore only, including a floating restaurant/retail/office barge, permanently moored vessel or floating hotel.

That covers the Fat Cat, Water Taxi and Delta Queen, Mr. Zehnder said. But the Leisure Lady will need a new contract to return to the South Shore as a restaurant, he said. If that happens, recreational boaters likely will feel threatened.

Mr. Rollins said he's worried that his interests will continue to get less consideration as this year's boating season arrives.

But Mr. Zehnder insisted the city is not planning to rent out the entire waterfront.

"I would try to maintain that we will always have a transient boat area on the waterfront, some way, somehow," he said. "We are presently reviewing ideas on expanding the marina to add more slips for boaters coming to Chattanooga."