Keokuk's new entertainment barge has been docked on the Mississippi River just south of the dam for nearly one year. The chairwoman of the Keokuk Riverfront Barge Commission is excited about the opportunities it provides.
“I couldn’t believe how big and how beautiful it was on the inside,” said Tonya Boltz when asked about her first time inside the facility. “It does need work as it has been sitting empty for a little while, but it holds a great many possibilities for Keokuk.”
The barge served as an entrance to a riverboat casino in Davenport. When the casino moved inland a couple years ago, the barge was no longer needed.
Keokuk acquired it for $1 and then spent a couple hundred thousand dollars more to float it down the river. It has started to clean out the barge to see if equipment that was left behind can be re-used.
The facility is about half the size of a football field (30,000 square feet) and can hold about 200 passengers. While in Davenport, it housed various shops, businesses, and restaurants.
Boltz said the commission, which is overseeing the management of the facility at this point, is considering several options: an event center, a couple restaurants, and a motel or bed & breakfast.
“Do you know of another bed and breakfast that’s on the river?” asked Boltz. “So why not have one here? Bring people here for that. It’d be cool to sleep on the river, you know even in the wintertime and watch the eagles. That would be really cool.”
Boltz said the goal is for a developer or two to come in and do the work to renovate the barge for future use. She said neither the city nor the commission have the resources to do that. That’s why a video might be produced to show off the barge to investors.
Boltz said an effort like this will take time, so she's asking the community for patience.
“This is all new to Keokuk,” said Boltz. “We are trying. This is a volunteer group. We are trying really hard to get this started. I know people want to see what’s going on down there.”
Boltz is confident the barge will improve tourism along the riverfront, given it is located just a few hundred yards from the George M. Verity Riverboat Museum, Victory Park, and the historic Keokuk Union Depot.