Delta Queen up for sale

Published 12:09 am Saturday, November 20, 2010

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The historic Delta Queen riverboat, now a floating hotel docked in Tennessee, is up for sale, and a group of Delta-region leaders hopes it gets tugged back into service carrying tourists on the big rivers in the nation’s midsection.

The 84-year-old Delta Queen, owned by Seattle-based cruise operator Ambassadors International, has been moored to a bank of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga for several years, offering overnight accommodation to visitors — but not cruising the river.

The company decided to solicit bids for the boat after receiving several inquiries, and Friday was the deadline, Ambassadors spokeswoman Vanessa Bloy said. She declined to say how many bids had been received or how much bidders were willing to pay.

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The Delta Grassroots Caucus, a private group of public officials and civic leaders, is supporting an effort by the Save the Delta Queen 2010 coalition. The coalition, led by a former executive of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., plans to put the boat back in operation carrying passengers on the Mississippi River and its tributaries, including the Ohio, Missouri and Arkansas rivers, the caucus said in a statement.

Visits by the Delta Queen could provide much-needed tourist revenue to economically troubled river towns in the Delta, the statement said. The caucus works with the federal Delta Regional Authority, which works to enhance the economy of the impoverished Mississippi Delta region in eight states.

“Thousands of well-off passengers would stop here and spend their money,” said caucus board member Kevin Smith, who lives in Helena-West Helena, a town along the Mississippi River.

He said he remembers how lively his hometown in Arkansas became when the Delta Queen made visits, as recently as the 1990s.

“Towns kind of wake up when they see the steamboat,” he said, adding that he was pleased to see renewed interest in returning the steamboat to service.

Bloy said Ambassadors International had no time frame for acting on bids it received for the Delta Queen, saying only: “We will make an announcement if there is a sale.”

She said the Delta Queen has a passenger capacity of 176. However, to carry that many, the boat’s owner would have to get approval from Congress to renew a waiver allowing the Delta Queen to carry more than 49 passengers.

There was no answer late Friday at a phone number listed for Robert Rintz of New Orleans, one of those spearheading the effort to get the riverboat back into action as a cruising vessel.