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A different (optimistic) view

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    "figure out ways to help an new owner take root and succeed"...

    Reckon the best anyone, on here, could do is book a trip and spread the word.

    Personally, I love to see one, or more, of our fine towboat companies buy the DELTA QUEEN and run her with the same effeciency and grace that they run their towing operations. Read the WWJ and read all the praise heaped onto these outfits. If some-such operator(s) did this as a "hobby" operation, if only to keep steamboatin' and the DQ alive, to begin with, it wouldn't take too long for the DQ to become a profitable investment while being run by river people.

    My former boss, the late "Cappy" Lawson Hamilton took on the PA DENNY under these circumstances and kept her running for about 20 years. Maybe the PAD wasn't the greatest moneymaker, but she was running; providing jobs and spreading joy to several generations of folks eager to ride an authentic paddlewheeler.



      I can think of only one "towboat company" who would be fitted with the talent, knowledge of the waterways, and the forsight to pull something like this off.

      They know who they are....and at one time I saw smoke signals from them to just this effect. Their fear at the time was the other two boats being competition. Since they are effectively out of the picture at the moment...times a wastin'!

      Lets all say a respective prayer to our selected deity and hope they read this post like I think they do!

      The same people I am intonating helped Capt Ham alot with the PA DENNY. They are the most stellar of river people and they know what it takes...they would be the perfect none!



        Sweeten the Pot

        Mr. T., I beg to differ with you concerning your first sentence, "only one 'towboat company' who would be fitted with the talent, knowledge of the waterways, and the forsight to pull something like this off." And the people you are intoning might be the first to agree with me. There are many, many fine towing companies that have all it takes to run first class river operations, including my suggestion, and possess the good sense to bring key people into the mix who would sweeten the pot.

        I totally agree with all the praised heaped on those most stellar of river people, for I have had a long-time association with these good folks- in fact, the Prez of that esteemed operation decked for me during his college days. If they still have interest in pursuing this matter, all I can add is: "Praise the Lord!"


          But on the other hand ....

          As some of you have noticed, I found Bill's analysis so penetrating that I offered him my job (to the extent that I can actually do that). However, my training demands that I step back from my enthusiasm and look for factors which might undermine the scenario which all of us embrace so eagerly. Here are some thoughts.

          First, while Bill's supply-and-demand analysis yields only that very positive scenario, we should keep in mind that it describes room supply that is fixed only in the short run. A basic economic principle is that if demand far exceeds supply, new supply will be created -- i.e., either the AQ or the Motel-on-a-Barge (or both) will return. If that happens, the DQ's very handsome profits likely will shrink to near their former level (decent in a good year, marginal in a bad year). Bill's argument is essentially AMIE's justification for their $10 million asking price; when you're selling something, you present the best-case scenario and downplay other possibilities.

          Second, implied by the first point, purchase and operation of the DQ by a purely for-profit new owner is far from a sure thing. A likelier outcome is that she is bought by someone who wants to make a profit, but not a big one --someone who has non-economic, preservationist objectives on his "what-my-life-is-all-about" list. The Greene family were such people, and such people exist today. But they do not live forever; eventually, death or business exigencies end their roles as protectors of the Good Thing. Thus, the DQ eventually will be set adrift again. Travis's Perfect Tow Boat Company may be indeed just we need at the moment, and perhaps for many years. But some time in the future, management will change, and different values may prevail. And so we would return to our current predicament.

          Third, the problem posed by the second point may be addressed by a different ownership alternative: the non-profit foundation. For reasons of both credibility and organizational skill, the umbrella for such a foundation would be the National Trust for Historic Preservation; for reasons that Bill presented so clearly in his political analysis, the Trust is now finally and properly our friend. There are two main advantages to the non-profit ownership option: a.) we solve the continuity issue (stewardship does not die with the DQ's protective owner), and b.) the DQ's profits (excuse me, operating surpluses) are non-taxable, and thus entirely available for maintenance and restorative improvements to the boat -- and contributions to the foundation are individually tax-deductible (while stock purchases are not).

          Finally, I offer a thought as counterpoint to my own argument: this is a lousy time to try to raise money for any foundation. Raelynn and I have seen half of the stock side of our retirement stash evaporate in the past year-and-a-half, so we're good for about half of what we would have donated in October of 2007; I'll guess that most of you are in a similar position. But I still think that the idea merits discussion.

          What think you all?

          Dave V.


            David, I agree with much of what you say. However, in your second point you intimate the Greene's had preservationist ideas about steamboating and the DQ. I did not know any of the Greenes, but my take on it is that they were in it for the money. They might have understood what they had better than the last few owners of the DQ, but they ran a business for profit. When things looked bleak for the steamboat business, the Greene Line did drastic things to make their other (packet) boats profitable, but had to tie them up anyway. After Chris's death, Tom and Mary ran the GORDON and the DQ, but when supply exceeded demand, they tied up the GORDON, nostalgia be damned. They went with their "new" non-Mississippi-style boat. They had a large investment in it, and it offered things the travelling public had come to expect: air conditioning and private baths.

            I'm no businessman, but what the Greenes did, what Dennis Trone did, etc. is to take an off-beat product, do it right, make money with it and make it look easy. My bet is they all had quiite a few sleepless nights.


              Salutin' the Flag

              I like your take, Dave, but I do not see the NTHP getting into the steamboat bizz. Supporters, yes, but operators, no. Of course I cannot speak for the Trust, but I was once active enough in that esteemed preservation society to be invited to become an Advisor to the Trust, but, being a poor boatman, I had either the time or money to take advantage of my invite.

              Recently, I was talking to a Vice-President of a small college interested in the river, and we were discussing fund raising for worthy projects. I asked how he would go about doing so and he replied that a plan would be drawn up and sent out to those who might be interested (towboat companies, for example), and if they got excited they would reply. Sort of raising the flag to see who will salute approach.

              From what you have suggested, I feel that a separate and independent NPO be organized and approach the Trust and others for support.


                I'm sorry, Sam -- I didn't make my "umbrella" point clear (maybe because I'm not entirely clear on the details myself). What I meant was that the Trust would provide us with advice on setting up the NPO, and then then give it their endorsement and some publicity -- our fundraising reach would be greatly extended by such help. You are almost certainly right that the Trust won't want to get into the steamboat business directly (even by just purchasing the boat and contracting out its management), but providing aid and comfort to an NPO is something that some Trust folks proposed even last fall, when their official position was that the DQ would make a nice hotel or museum.

                Dave V.
                Last edited by David Vrooman; 03-24-2009, 10:00 AM. Reason: forgot to sign


                  Thanks for setting me straight, Bob -- I have a tendency to glamourize my heroes, and the Greene family, in light of what they accomplished, are among my heroes.

                  But I'll still bet that they couldn't have done what they did without some love being somewhere in the mix.

                  Dave V.


                    River Queen in Escrow?

                    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: According to a news report appearing in last Friday's Eastern Oregonian, a syndicate is being formed to purchase the "Queen of the West." The potential sale of this riverboat to a northwest group headed by an experienced Columbia River cruise operator is great news for those of us who are interested in the future operation of the Delta Queen.

                    ANALYSIS: The QW --- like the Delta Queen --- is one of the six riverboats that was last operated by Majestic America. While it's easy to err while comparing different boats on different rivers, here are some observations that should be encouraging to fans of the Delta Queen.

                    First, this proves that Ambassadors International (formerly doing business as Majestic America), having returned the two "take over payments" boats (American Queen and Empress of the North) to MARAD in 2008, is still actively working to find new owners for the four remaining riverboats where they hold the "pink slip" (Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen, Queen of the West, and Columbia Queen).

                    Second, even in this "challenging" economy, someone is looking to roll the dice on the profitability of river cruises. Interesting to me is that this group has the same name and CEO as the company that bought the newer Columbia Queen from MARAD in 2004, and operated her for a few months in 05-06 before folding up shop in the face of Ambassador's purchase of the other two Columbia Riverboats.

                    Third: This "experienced player" --- when taking a chair at the game where he was previously beaten --- is opting for the older and more authentic Queen of the West instead of his previous Columbia Queen or the larger and more opulent Empress of the North.

                    Fourth: The QW was not only oldest and most authentic of Majestic America's Columbia River fleet, she's the only Columbia Riverboat that has a track record of year-after-year profits (1995-2000). It was, in fact, the QW's sustained profitability that allowed its owners to commission the Empress at about the same time that ACV's Delta Queen Steamboat Company launched the CQ (which operated for two years before being surrendered to MARAD in 2001).

                    Fifth: The article indicates that the prospective new owner's sole intention is to operate this one smaller boat --- which is nearly identical in passenger capacity to the Delta Queen (167 pax vs 176 pax).

                    Sixth: From the article we can surmise that some potential funding may come from sources based in Pendleton --- a historic town of 17,000 that has seen better days and now depends on tourism. Although Pendleton is miles from the Columbia, it was invariably featured in river-cruise shore excursions. Are there similar small towns along the Mississippi and Ohio who will also miss the arrival of riverboat tourists each spring?

                    Seventh: This Columbia River plan is moving forward in spite of the existence of two potential competing boats. As would be the case on the Mississippi, one of the potential competitors is in the hands of Majestic America, and the other even larger potential competitor is in the hands of MARAD. We can surmise that this gambler doesn't think a new competitor will beat him using one of those newer and less authentic boats --- both of which cost more to operate.

                    I think all of this dovetails with my previously expounded (optimistic) belief that a shrewd Mississippi riverboat "gambler" (or syndicate) will decide that buying just one boat --- the Delta Queen --- is apt to be a winning wager.

                    -Bill McCready