Government

Fort Madison weighs $1.7 million cruise ship project

FORT MADISON — An effort to make Fort Madison a Mississippi River cruise destination took a step forward this past week, with the City Council signing off on continued negotiations with Viking Cruise Lines.

A key step in making Fort Madison a cruise destination is building a dock. SmithGroup, a company hired to produce cost estimates and design renderings for the dock, has said the project would cost $1.7 million.

City Manager David Varley and Mayor Brad Randolph told the council Tuesday that Viking agreed to contribute $500,000 toward dock construction, with the city contributing $1.2 million.

“It’s important to note that we aren’t going to spend any money until we’re absolutely sure that this is going to happen,” Randolph said. “The key for the city is to make sure that we have a good partnership and that we don’t feel like we’re spending money, and then we end up losing money if something didn’t happen down the road.”

Viking is known for its river cruises around the world, including in Europe and Asia. The Mississippi River cruise it intends to launch would span from St. Louis to St. Paul, Minn.

Based on preliminary discussions, Viking would conduct its 11-stop cruise from July until October, with two weekly stops in Fort Madison. Once passengers disembark, they are incentivized to spend time in the communities where the boat docks.

Potential financing options for Fort Madison’s $1.2 million share of the project include a general obligation bond, in which residents would vote whether the city could borrow funds to build the dock.

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Randolph said the city also proposed to Viking an option for the cruise company to pay all construction costs, with the city paying the company back over the span of a 20-year lease.

Council member Bob Morawitz said he is skeptical the city is financially sound enough to take on a project of this magnitude, with no solid way to track whether the city makes its money back.

Randolph, along with council member Rusty Andrews, however, said they saw the potential project as an economic benefit for the city.

“We’re counting on a stimulation of the local economy from the boat being here,” Randolph said.

In talking with city officials in Hannibal, Mo., Varley said that Mississippi River town’s downtown businesses saw increased traffic from riverboat employees, in addition to passengers.

“The thinking is it would be a city-wide benefit,” Varley said.

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