BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The idea that excursion boats will soon again decorate the Mississippi River shorelines at Fort Madison, got another boost Tuesday night.
During a discussion period, the Fort Madison City Council gave an informal thumbs up to City Manager David Varley to continue negotiating with American Cruise Lines to make Fort Madison a possible port-of-call with stops beginning as soon as this year.
The city has also been courting Viking Cruise Lines who plans on starting domestic cruises in 2021. However, Viking has yet to sign contracts with U.S. boat builders and has yet to sign any official agreements with the city.
The American Cruise Lines, which is a U.S.-based company out of Connecticut, is already cruising the Mississippi and has far less demands from the city in getting the stops formalized.
Varley said American Cruise Lines is asking for some rehabilitation of the current pier that would cost between $30,000 and $40,000. He said Hall Towing has already submitted a bid for the improvements. Viking on the other hand has boats that require a deeper pool of water. According to a feasibility study, the city would have to extend the current pier 80-feet and then purchase a barge to be used for the ships to moor parallel to the shore.
The cost of that construction is $1.7 million and Viking has agreed to pay up to $500,000 for the improvements or about 30%. Viking has also indicated that any additional improvements to the riverfront they would be willing to pay 30% as well.
Both American and Viking have agreed to pay the city $1/passenger as a docking fee. The city would provide electric, water and possibly sewer to the boats, but the cruise lines would be metered and charged as customers for the utilities.
Logistically, the American Cruise Lines would moor to the pier from the front of their boats with a walkway, or plank, that would drop down from the front to the pier and allow passengers to disembark.
Fort Madison Mayor Brad Randolph said the city still needs to investigate whether or not the Viking Cruise extended dock would interfere with the arrival and/or departure of American Cruise Lines ships.
Varley said the city is still working on an agreement with Viking Cruise lines but may try to renegotiate some of the terms more favorable to the city. He is also hoping to have a finalized agreement for American in place for the city council at it’s next meeting.
Varley said it would also be a good opportunity to lease out some space in the Riverview Park pavilion for a retail outlet for souvenirs and other Fort Madison memorabilia for people getting off the boats.
Fort Madison would be on American’s Upper Mississippi River Cruises itinerary that goes from St. Louis to St. Paul on an 8-day, 7 night cruise. There are also extended 11- and 22-day Mississippi River cruises.
The third day of the Upper Mississippi itinerary shows an open day of cruising sandwiched between a 2nd day stop in Hannibal, Mo., and a 4th day stop in Davenport, so it would appear Fort Madison would be a 3rd day stop on that cruise.
Randolph said the company is looking at 10 stops this year and up to 30 stops from spring to fall each year after.
The agreement would be for 20 years with two additional 10-year renewals.