City now in shallower water with Viking discussions

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – It seems that a bit of misinformation has lead to some good fortune for Fort Madison’s negotiations with Viking Cruise lines.

On Tuesday, a letter of intent to allow the worldwide cruise line to make Fort Madison a port of call beginning in 2022 is set for discussion.

The city has already inked a deal with American Cruise Lines, which docked ten times in August and September of this year, but canceled the remaining four cruises due to expected high waters north of St. Louis.

The group has planned 16 stops in Fort Madison next year and then possibly a full slate of stops in 2021.

But the whole party started a few years back when city officials started courting Viking Cruise lines when the Swiss-based riverboat cruise line announced its intention to offer U.S. cruises, specifically on the Mississippi River.

Viking has had plans to begin cruising in the United States, but those plans were halted when U.S. Maritime rules prohibited them from using foreign built ships on domestic cruises. The rules also mandate U.S. crews aboard the ships. In October of 2018, the company announced a deal with Edison Chouest of Cut Off, Louisiana to build ships domestically.

But Viking brings another aspect to their cruises and that’s international marketing experience which would be beneficial to ports of call.

Fort Madison Mayor Brad Randolph said a conversation with Viking representatives uncovered a discrepancy in requirements that could save the city more than $1 million dollars in infrastructure.

“Fortunately for us there was some sort of error in the information that was given to us,” he said.

Randolph said the city was operating with the understanding that Viking ships would need 10.5 feet of draft, or water depth, for their ships which had engineers planning on a pier extension and barge configuration that would reach out to the required depth.

“We’d been operating under the understanding we needed 10.5 feet of draft and we’ve been working toward how we can achieve that and it brought us to a $1.7 million price tag and Viking agreed to put $500,000 toward that cost.”

He said with that new information and Viking’s progress in setting up the domestic cruise agendas, they are looking to secure letters of intent from proposed ports of call.

Randolph didn’t release additional information about the new state of negotiations with Viking, but did say if Viking is still willing to make that $500,000 contribution, the city may be able to accommodate Viking’s docking requirements at little to no cost to the city.

“They have always agreed to contribute $500,000 toward our costs to get things ready for them. I think we can do what is necessary for them to dock with this new information, within that amount,” Randolph said.

“They’ve always been willing to offer that to make it a reality. That in itself speaks volumes to how anxious they are to be here.”

He said the Letter of Intent up for discussion Tuesday is no different than the document that was presented earlier this year when the city thought it was going to have a heavy financial burden.

“We had been holding off executing the agreement to make sure we had funding in place for the build out and that the city council was on board moving forward with Viking,” Randolph said.

“Assuming they go forward, they want to make sure these agreements are in place so if things get finalized, they know the tentative plans on the docking schedule.”

The Letter of Intent would indicate the city agrees to be a stop and to do what is necessary to establish the infrastructure needed by Viking.

The infrastructure could be a layout similar to what is in place for American Cruise lines, but on the east side of the common pier.

“This would allow us to have accommodations for both ACL and Viking independently because there would surely be days when both ships were in town on the same day.”

He said the item is up for discussion only, but ideally the council would vote on it the first or second week of November and at that point would have more information related to specific costs.

Other items on the Tuesday council agenda include:

  • several items related to the approval or rejection of the $2.8 million construction bid from Iowa Bridge and Culvert for the construction of the Amtrak Passenger platform at the proposed new depot in Riverview Park.
  • The third reading of an ordinance to allow golf carts and ATVs/UTVs on designated city streets in Fort Madison.
  • approval of an agreement for professional engineering services with HR Green for reconstruction plans for the one way pairs on 18th and 20th Streets between Avenue H and Avenue L.

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