BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With the city getting more and more confident that American Cruise Lines will begin docking on the riverfront in 2019, officials are now setting their sites on the “miracle” of having two cruise lines stopping in Fort Madison.
At Tuesday’s regular city council meeting, City Manager David Varley said he needed direction from the council on how to proceed with Viking’s request for docking facilities that could run the city upwards of $1.2 million.
“It would be nice having two ships docking there. It would be like a miracle,” Varley said Tuesday night.
“I believe in miracles,” Councilman Chris Greenwald replied.
Engineering estimates have the cost of doing the upgrades Viking officials are asking for, at about $1.7 million all-in including design, construction and contingency costs. Viking has agreed to put $500,000 toward the costs.
Greenwald said he believes with that $500,000 contribution, the city will have to pay that back to Viking and he would prefer to fund the whole $1.7 million and have full control of the dock.
“I want the $1.7 million, the whole amount,” he said. “With the $500,000, I believe we’re going to have to repay that and, until we do, they retain certain controls.”
Greenwald said he and Mayor Brad Randolph have been working the phones to try and see if there is other funding sources out there to offset the city’s cost. The two did the same thing when they found money to offset a city shortfall in relocating the Amtrak Depot to it’s original location in Riverview Park earlier this year.
“That’s the direction I’m going. This is just like Amtrak to me. Amtrak was a ‘no’ until it became a ‘yes’. I’m going to these same the sources and when I run into a source that says I don’t have any money. I say do me a favor and start talking it up,” Greenwald said Wednesday.
“That’s what happened on the Amtrak deal. It wasn’t necessarily the people we were calling, but the people they are talking to.”
Greenwald told the council Tuesday that he would rather see the funding go to a bond election, before the council would vote no on working with Viking.
“Before I would say no to Viking, I would want to present a bond to the voters and allow them to decide. If I had a chance as a voter I would vote yes. But we need to get this in front of the two voters, those that would say “yes” and those that would say “no”,” he said.
Randolph said the city should have an agreement in place for the council to vote on at it’s next meeting.
American’s demands are much more manageable at about $30,000. American has committed $15,000 to the work and the rest will come from city funds and resources.
Varley said he was concerned with the city signing any agreement to work with Viking and the not having the funding to follow through.
City Councilman Kevin Rink said he didn’t think the chance of getting a bond referendum passed was very good.
“I don’t see this going through with a (general obligation) bond for $1.2 million. Then we fail on the back side it,” Rink said.
Varley said he didn’t want to drag Viking along if the city wasn’t going to be able to come up with the funds.
“They are holding us up as their first choice, but they’ve been very upfront about saying if we can’t afford it to let them know so they can look at other options,” he said.
Councilman Bob Morawitz suggested looking to other cities and counties in the area including Nauvoo, Burlington and Keokuk, who could also stand to benefit from the cruise ships docking in Fort Madison.
Varley told the council at the end of the discussion they would continue to negotiate with Viking. He said the cruise line has not been receptive to financing or paying for all the improvements.