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Can this boat be saved?

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American Cruise Lines is maintaining American Queen in New Orleans, with crew on board
A meetings, hotel or entertainment venue, restaurant, museum, stationary casino or dinner cruise vessel may be possibilities for American Queen, but any of these will take vision and lots of money.

So said experts in reaction to American Cruise Lines evaluating options for the largest paddlewheel steamboat ever built, including possible 'donation to a municipal or nonprofit entity.'

Unique but not necessarily historic

American Queen was introduced in 1995. It's unique, but not necessarily historic, though it does have a working 1930s steam engine and lots of art and artefacts. The vessel would need a hefty investment to bring it back into cruise operations.

The former owner, Hornblower Group, the parent of defunct American Queen Voyages, surrendered the certificate of inspection to the sector commander at Coast Guard Sector New Orleans on Feb. 6.

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American Queen's grand staircase

American Cruise Lines is maintaining American Queen in New Orleans with crew on board and, as earlier reported, there's interest from entities in the heartland that are considering whether it could be repurposed. Seatrade Cruise News understands such parties may be exploring funding sources from tourism and economic development agencies to do so.

ACL wouldn't want the boat to languish for a long period, and there was no other 'qualified bidder' for American Queen during the AQV bankruptcy proceedings. ACL paid $2.15m for the 436-passenger vessel.

Plenty of possibilities but ...

Devin Heath, CEO of DistiNCtly Fayetteville (North Carolina), a former director of Visit Natchez, the Mississippi River town where American Queen was a frequent caller, cited plenty of options to repurpose the paddlewheeler but this means 'getting the right people to the table' — both visionaries and those with the financial expertise to determine if it could deliver a return on investment. 

He thinks this should entail a public-private partnership with 'skin in the game' from multiple parties.

'As somebody who's all about destination development, if I were still in Natchez, I would take a look at it,' Heath said.

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American Queen's Mark Twain Gallery

'The mystique of [American Queen], it's almost like going into a historic home ... I would explore the possibility,' Heath continued. 'Everyone loves something unique and those riverboats are certainly special.'

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Two wings of American Queen's JM White Dining Room are double height

The Steamship Historical Society of America gave numerous examples of entities that have preserved classic vessels around the United States yet this takes a major effort, often requiring government support.

'Never easy' and 'always very expensive'

'It’s never easy to accomplish any preservation/restoration or adaptive use project. And it’s always very expensive,' SHSA Executive Director Matthew Schulte said.

'It’s also too bad in today’s world we do not have federal funds regularly to provide for, protect and steward our maritime treasures,' he continued. 'Many historic resources are at-risk and/or deteriorating with uncertain futures because there is a lack of national funding sources for sustainability.

'Even those vessels receiving the highest distinction as National Historic Landmarks do not have ongoing funding from the government for their care,' Schulte said.

The 1926-built Delta Queen, listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1989, has languished, in need of repairs.

It's questionable whether American Queen qualifies as 'historic,' and as one source said: 'At some point, every ship has its day.' 

Nostalgia and hope

Still, riverboat enthusiasts point to the opulent public spaces that are quite functional and the nostalgia surrounding the paddlewheeler, and remain hopeful American Queen can stay viable in some way.