This article was originally published on timesfreepress.com.
The Delta Queen riverboat, transported by tugboat out of Chattanooga three years ago after a sometimes stormy stay, will make stops in the city when it restarts passenger trips in 2020.
“It will come to Chattanooga, Nashville, all the regular itinerary,” said Cornel Martin, president and chief executive of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co.
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Coast Guard Authorization Bill that includes provisions enabling the historic Delta Queen to begin operations again. The president’s signature on the bill is expected.
Martin said the Delta Queen, now docked in Houma, Louisiana, will undergo $10 million to $12 million in renovations to make it river-worthy again.
“Most of that is mechanical. Some of it is cosmetic,” he said. “We tried to keep her in pretty good shape.”
In 2008, the vessel that was christened in 1927 made its last voyage after a federal exemption expired that had permitted the paddlewheeler to ply the rivers of the Eastern United States.
After that, the boat was brought to Chattanooga and docked for a number of years at Coolidge Park and used as a hotel, restaurant and bar. But a 2014 ice storm crippled the vessel and prompted it to stop taking visitors.
Even before that storm, maintenance and upkeep had become an issue, and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke attempted to evict the Delta Queen from the park.
In 2015, the riverboat left town pulled by a tugboat. The current owner held the dream of eventually landing the exemption so it could take on passengers and again travel the rivers.
Keith Sanford, chairman of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau board, said the Delta Queen is another way to attract more people to the city. He said passengers on riverboat cruises usually spend more than typical tourists.
Sanford, who also heads the Tennessee Aquarium, expects Delta Queen stopovers at nearby Ross’s Landing to help that riverfront attraction as well. Also, riverboat passengers tend to like history and that’s a fit for Chattanooga, he said.
Shaw Sprague, senior director of government relations for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the Delta Queen is the last of its kind, and the trust helped with the effort.
“It represents the last vestige of the sternwheel steamboat maritime heritage,” he said. “There’s nothing like the Delta Queen actively traveling the inland river system.”
Having the nearly 100-year-old riverboat moving up and down the Mississippi River and other systems such as the Tennessee “connects citizens to our proud maritime past.”