Parks preserve Downtown paddlewheeler

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February 16, 2004 // UPDATED 2:56 pm - April 24, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

The Downtown riverfront will still host a paddlewheel excursion boat, thanks to a new Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board deal.

The deal will net the Park Board more money and amenities -- and the parties are even talking about water taxis and "aquaminiums," a type of houseboat.

A key Park Board committee voted Feb. 4 to direct staff to finalize contract details with LaCrosse-based SkipperLiner. The board is expected to approve the deal Wednesday, Feb. 18.

It has few if any options.

The St. Paul-based Padelford Packet Boat Company had the Minneapolis excursion and charter boat contract for 15 years, but the partnership ended acrimoniously when the Park Board sought competitive proposals. Padelford announced it would up anchor and relocate its two Boom Island boats to St. Paul.

Don Siggelkow, Park Board assistant superintendent of administration and finance, said the tentative SkipperLiner deal would more than double its revenue compared to the old Padelford pact.

Padelford paid 5 percent of ticket sales. Its top annual payment was $36,278. The Park Board had sought to increase its ticket sales percentage and add a share of food and beverage sales.

According to the tentative deal, SkipperLiner would pay the same 5 percent of ticket sales and add 5 percent of food and beverage sales, he said. (Those percentages would be lower for the first few years to offset SkipperLiner's initial investment, Siggelkow said.)

In addition, SkipperLiner would pay a $20,000 annual port fee, covering maintenance, dredging and other services. Padelford did not pay such a fee.

Overall, the Park Board expects to increase revenue by $851,000 over the 15-year contract, compared to the old Padelford agreement, based on 2003 sales figures. That works out to about $55,000 more a year.

James Grabek, chair of the North Loop Neighborhood Association, attended the Feb. 4 meeting and said Padelford had been a good neighbor and provided a good service. He criticized the Park Board for how it handled the process and asked Commissioners not to rush into the decision.

He said the Park Board needed to take a harder look at SkipperLiner's experience before entering into a long-term deal.

Siggelkow said SkipperLiner has several hundred employees, had built 1,000 boats and runs two restaurants, three full-service marinas, three marine service centers, four regional boat operator training centers and five passenger vessel operations.

SkipperLiner would contract with Dave Lawrance of Lake Minnetonka-based Paradise Cruises to run the Mississippi charter boat, Siggelkow said. SkipperLiner has not decided whether it would operate the excursion boat itself or contract it out.

Commissioner Walt Dziedzic took Padelford to task for not making an offer. "We can't force them into a contract," he said. "They had a lucrative deal. They overplayed their hand."

According to the tentative agreement, SkipperLiner would bring a 150-person paddleboat for excursions from Boom Island and a 150-passsenger modern yacht for charter service from Mill Ruins Park and Bohemian Flats.

(Padelford had larger boats, a 350-person paddleboat and a 360-person barge, both operating from Boom Island.)

SkipperLiner would continue to provide discounted school field trips, according to a Feb. 4 Siggelkow memo. The initial contract would run 10 years. The two parties could mutually agree to extend it five years, and the board has an added five-year option.

SkipperLiner, according to the memo, "is also committed to reviewing other riverfront projects such as a public marina and 'aquaminiums,' a concept for waterfront housing."

SkipperLiner would like to have a model aquaminium unit in place by June 1, the memo said.

Some Commissioners also talked about the possibility of adding water taxi service. Such discussions are very preliminary.