Delta Queen heads to New Orleans for restoration

Sunday, March 22, 2015
The Delta Queen leaves the Cape Girardeau riverfront Oct. 29, 2008. (Southeast Missourian file)

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- A historic paddle wheel riverboat that has been docked in Tennessee for the last seven years is headed to New Orleans for a complete restoration.

The Delta Queen will depart from Chattanooga today for the trip, which is expected to last from nine to 14 days.

Leah Ann Ingram, part owner of the newly created Delta Queen Steamboat Co., told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the riverboat will be transformed back into a luxury overnight passenger vessel.

The Delta Queen was removed from waterways in 2008 when Congress declined to give it another exemption from the Safety Life at Sea Act. It became a floating hotel in Chattanooga until it was damaged in an ice storm in 2014.

Ingram says the boat's new owners also are pushing for an exemption to the federal law and hope to offer cruises next year.

"She'll go every place she's always gone, and that includes Chattanooga," Ingram said. "But only for a 24-hour turnaround."

The 1920s-era boat can hold 176 passengers and 120 crew members. In addition to being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is classified as a National Historic Landmark. Ingram says it is the last boat of its type to travel the river using only a paddle wheel.

The newspaper reports New Orleans businessman Cornel Martin, who led a group that purchased the boat last month, plans to spend about $5 million to restore the vessel. In addition, the group is pushing for an exemption from the law prohibiting boats of a certain size with a wooden superstructure from carrying 50 passengers or more on overnight trips because of the fire risk. One condition for the possible exemption is 10 percent of the boat's wood structure be replaced each year with a more fireproof material.

Ingram said owners still are trying to determine where the boat's home port will be.

"Cincinnati definitely wants their boat back," she said, though there's also interest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; St. Louis and New Orleans. It would mean about 300 jobs, along with about $13 million in direct economic impact for the city that gets it.

If plans come together, the Delta Queen would begin offering cruises in 2016 for about $350 a night for trips including various cities in the Mississippi River and Ohio River waterways. It would compete with the Memphis, Tennessee-based American Queen, which has 222 rooms and can carry more than 400 passengers.

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Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com

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