In only a few weeks' time, the historic Delta Queen steamboat will have a new home in Chattanooga.
Ambassadors International Inc. announced Tuesday that the 1926 vessel has been leased to Harry Phillips, owner of Chattanooga Water Taxi LLC, who plans to moor it at Coolidge Park and open it to visitors and overnight guests.
The boat is expected to leave its port in New Orleans on Feb. 4 and arrive in Chattanooga about Feb. 8.
Mr. Phillips said the agreement is a great way to help maintain the boat while Ambassadors International looks for a buyer who can operate it as a passenger ship.
"Everyone wants the boat and dreams of going out and buying the boat, but in reality, it's a tough and tricky proposition to make anything work economically," he said. "I think our agreement with the owners is something that works out well for them, it works out well for us and it works out really well for the city of Chattanooga and everyone who is able to come and visit her."
Under the lease, Mr. Phillips said, the boat will be maintained in its current state. All mechanical functions will be operated on a regular basis, he added, to ensure it remains in "tip-top shape."
Earlier this month, the Delta Queen was nominated for inclusion on the National Trust for Preservation's 2009 list of America's Most Endangered Historic Places.
Chattanooga developer Allen Casey had dropped plans last summer to dock the boat on his North Shore property after an investor pulled out of the project, records show.
The Queen's supporters tirelessly have lobbied Congress to renew an exemption to a rule prohibiting wooden vessels from carrying overnight passengers. Vickie Webster, chairwoman of the Cincinnati-based "Save the Delta Queen" campaign, said she'd prefer to see the boat back on the river but said some good could come of the new arrangement.
"The only good thing about this - and it will be good only if it's temporary - is right now she's in a very high-risk situation in New Orleans, in an area that has very heavy industrial traffic and is wide open to vandalism," Ms. Webster said.
Boutique hotel owner Sydney Slome will manage the Delta Queen Hotel, where room rents will range from $89 for a bunk-bed cabin to between $155 and $175 for a suite. The hotel is expected to open for guests by April 1, Mr. Slome said.
"It will be an honor to operate it as a hotel," said Mr. Slome, who also owns the Stone Fort Inn in Chattanooga. "I can't wait to get it up to Chattanooga and get that gangplank down and open it to guests."