BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Viking Cruise officials said this fall they were going to move quickly with plans to introduce domestic cruises on the Mississippi River beginning in 2020.
City officials have an agreement for consideration at Tuesday’s regular meeting to lease docking space in Fort Madison to the cruise lines in anticipation of a Fort Madison stop planned for the St. Louis to St. Paul 7-day excursions north and south on the Mississippi.
Fort Madison Mayor Brad Randolph said in October that the idea had been resurrected when Viking officials found a new shipbuilder to build and own the ships, but would lease them back to Viking to overcome a maritime law hurdle that put a hold on previous plans to launch the cruises.
A Viking spokesman updated city officials in Dubuque this fall about the new shipbuilder and plans for the cruises and said as soon as ships start being built, the company would start locking in agreements. However, officials were told at that point that the cruise line hadn’t decided if it would stop in Burlington or Fort Madison and could put packages together where passengers might have options on the two ports of call.
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City Manager David Varley has recommended the council approve the agreement, which is a precursor to a commitment to a long-term Ground Lease that is currently being suggested at 20 years. Under that agreement the city would agree to work with Viking and governmental agencies to secure funding to build a floating dock for the boarding and off-boarding of passengers and supplies on the city’s shores. Also as part of the long-term lease, the city will be paid a rent of $1 per passenger on the cruises. Preliminary estimates are that 165,000 passengers could be cruising the Mississippi by 2027, however there are several proposed cruises and some of those would run south of St. Louis and not dock in Fort Madison.
A shortened summary of the future Ground Lease would include:
• an exclusive Ground Lease with the city which shall provide Viking with full and direct access to the river.
• once signed, the Ground Lease will include a 20-year initial term with the option to extend for two additional 10-year terms.
• Viking will pay the city $1 per passenger traveling.
• Ground Lease will grant Viking the right to construct improvement on the property such as roadways, loading stations, commercial space, a docking facility which may include land-based structures, a floating dock and ramp, and other necessary facilities and the ability to tie into all necessary utilities.
• Viking is willing to contribute to costs of constructing any improvements on the property provided that the City shall cooperate with Viking in any requests to government officials. Also, the City shall provide good and clear title to the property.
The Agreement to Lease, which is the only agreement in front of the council regarding Viking at this point, provides that both parties will work to enter into the 20-year Ground Lease within three months of the effective date of Viking’s charter to operate on the Mississippi River. Until that time the “Agreement to Lease is considered a binding and legally enforceable document.
In other action Tuesday, the council is expected to:
• take up the cemetery rate increases that were tabled at the last meeting on Dec. 4, due to lack of attendance. Some holiday/Sunday service increases are as high 116% for adults to $2,000 from $950.
• consider appointing Varley to the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission Board of Directors.
• adopt a resolution to file an application with SEIRPC to acquire federal funding to reconstruct the intersection of Business 61 and 53rd Street.