A riverboat port facility in Kimmswick may be finished by the end of the year, after the Jefferson County Port Authority’s Board of Directors recently voted to accept a construction contract.
In addition, the Port Authority has taken the first tentative steps to develop another port facility in Crystal City.
Port Authority Executive Director Neal Breitweiser said the board voted unanimously in June to award an $893,248 contract to XL Contracting of St. Peters to build the Kimmswick port, which will be the home base for the Delta Queen riverboat and can handle other boats traveling the Mississippi River.
The company submitted the lowest of nine bids for the project, he said.
“They had the best engineering appraisal, and proved they are able to pull off work of this scope,” Breitweiser said.
He said work to build the port – a river landing and a road leading to it – may begin in early September and is scheduled to take 15 weeks.
Breitweiser said details are being worked out with XL Contracting that may affect the starting date and the cost of the project.
“In October (2019), the board unanimously rejected a single bid for the project because it was about $1 million more than expected,” he said.
Port Authority officials said the engineering firm that developed the plans, Hanson Professional Services of Maryland Heights, had estimated the cost of the project at $1.2 million.
Breitweiser said the design of the project didn’t change much since the bid was rejected last year, as the dock itself was fairly basic, but details surrounding how much construction could be done offsite and whether work was required during high-water times were modified to make the project more attractive to bidders and to bring down the cost.
When the dock is complete, boats will be able to drop anchor in Kimmswick. Breitweiser said he frequently fields calls from operators interested in mooring their boats in Kimmswick when the main tenant, the Delta Queen, is not there.
He said the Delta Queen owners have committed to mooring the boat in Kimmswick at least 11 times a year; it will cruise up and down major North American waterways when not in Kimmswick.
“The operators of the American Queen (another riverboat operation) are very interested in using the dock,” he said. “Bi-State Development, which operates the Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher riverboats, is interested in coming during the Kimmswick Apple Butter and Strawberry festivals.”
As to when the Delta Queen might arrive in Kimmswick to kick off its cruising schedule, Breitweiser said COVID-19 has thrown its operators for a loop.
“First off, it’s still being renovated in Louisiana, but because of the virus, the shipworkers and dockhands are working with social distancing, which is really slowing down the process,” he said.
And, given the current state of the virus and the economy, the Delta Queen’s owners acknowledge now is not the best time to be launching a riverboat cruising operation.
“When there are expectations you shouldn’t congregate in groups, that’s a difficult environment to start a cruising operation,” Breitweiser said. “Some states have restrictions on people from other states coming in without quarantining themselves for 14 days. In the cruising industry, that will be tough to work around.”
However, he said he’s been told there are no plans to abandon Kimmswick as a home port for the Delta Queen once the situation improves.
“The plans are still very much in place to make it happen here,” Breitweiser said.
The Jefferson County Council voted in 2018 to spend up to $238,421 from the county’s reserve fund to provide the local match for the port project; the other 80 percent will be covered by a state waterways grant.
Crystal City port on horizon
Breitweiser said the authority recently received word it will receive a $155,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study for a port to be located on property in Crystal City owned by former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley and others.
The grant was awarded by the Missouri Added-Value Agricultural Grant Program, which is administered by the state Agriculture and Small Business Development Authority under the Department of Agriculture.
“The grant will allow us to do a feasibility study on how much it would cost to develop a port in Crystal City that will allow the shipping of commodities such as corn and soybeans as well as beef and pork products,” Breitweiser said.
He said the port also could serve refrigerated shipping boats.
“That’s a fairly unusual vessel for the river industry,” he said.
Breitweiser said the Port Authority had applied for grants through the state to purchase the property from Bradley and his partners in two installments of $1 million each in the state’s 2022 fiscal year, but that funding has been put on hold due to state budget cuts caused by the pandemic.
The Port Authority board selected TranSystems Corp. of Kansas City, the lowest bidder, to complete the study.
“They were the most qualified bidder, and it’s my understanding they did a similar study on a Crystal City port 10 years ago, so they already have some knowledge. While the funding to buy the land is on hold, we want the study in place so we can proceed when that money is released,” Breitweiser said.