Question: Could riverboats like the American Queen again dock at Evansville’s Dress Plaza?
The Background: Back in the 1950s, Evansville’s Dress Plaza was home to a marina below the Pagoda called the Plaza Boat Club. As boats got bigger and their tows longer, the club was struck twice by errant boats, causing major damage both to the marina and the docked boats. Dress Plaza is located at “one of the most dangerous bends in the Ohio River,” says Ron Riecken, owner of Inland Marina Inc. Because of the accidents and its location, Plaza Boat Club lost its permit from both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard to have the marina there.
Today, riverboats passing by Evansville are permitted only to dock alongside the LST-325 at the city-owned dock, which is located at Inland Marina. This is due to the dock’s position on the straightaway in the river, out of the navigation channel. The city had originally sought to place the LST at Dress Plaza, which represents a very visible location; however, the presence of the LST would have made the bend close to impossible to navigate. Riverboats are able to tie themselves, or “raft up,” to the LST. However, there aren’t many riverboats taking advantage of this. As Riecken points out, the recession hit the riverboat industry especially hard — only two boats are actually up and running, though American Cruise Lines has plans to add an additional four boats, two of which will run on the Mississippi River system in 2015.
The last riverboat to dock in Evansville with passengers was the Delta Queen in 2009. As Bob Warren, executive director of the Evansville Convention and Visitors Bureau, says, there are “logistical issues” with not being able to dock right downtown at Dress Plaza. However, Warren maintains that “we definitely want to see more riverboat business in Evansville. We certainly have the assets to be a successful port of call.” He is in talks with the American Queen about adding Evansville to its list of stops, though this couldn’t take effect until the summer of 2015 at the earliest. “They (touring passengers) go to your stores, your restaurants, your museums,” says Warren in regards to the impact of the travelers on these boats. “There is a financial benefit, a value, to these riverboats.”
Our Verdict: For the past two years, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the steamboat, the Belle of Cincinnati stopped in Evansville (without passengers) to offer a dinner cruise excursion. Additionally, the Evansville Convention and Visitors Bureau regularly arranges for buses to take tourists from the riverboats docked into Henderson into Evansville to visit attractions, shop, and eat. This demonstrates enthusiasm for riverboats in Evansville. It is our hope that Evansville Convention and Visitors Bureau’s efforts to bring riverboats back to Evansville in spite of the logistical issues will prove successful and we can tap into the economic benefits these riverboats bring.