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Fort Madison Considering Lease with Cruise Line

American Cruise Lines
Fort Madison could approve a lease next month that would see nearly a dozen cruise ships dock along Riverview Park this summer/fall.

Fort Madison could soon see an influx of tourists. The city is close to finalizing a lease with American Cruise Lines for the use of the city's dock at Riverview Park.

City Manager David Varley said the company, which offers Mississippi River cruises, reached out to the city a couple months ago about being an excursion spot for passengers. He said Fort Madison could see ten stops this year and as many as 30 per year by 2021.

“It will be a real benefit to the entire community,” said Varley. “It will raise awareness about the city and it will be cool to look out and see a boat docked there. Some of [American Cruise Line’s] boats are paddleboats so they are kind of historic and will fit with the character of the river.”

The city council is expected to vote on the lease during its July 2 meeting, which will be preceded by a public hearing. The proposed 20-year deal has two built-in ten-year extension opportunities.

Varley said during the first year of the lease, American Cruise Lines would pay the city $1 for every passenger on boats that stop in Fort Madison. In the following years, the payment would be $1 per passenger or $5,000, whichever figure is larger. And there would be built-in per passenger increases of 25-cents every two years.

Varley said the city's dock at Riverview Park must be renovated before cruise ships can stop there. He said the estimated cost of that project is about $30,000. The expense will be split between the city and the company.

The city is also in talks with Viking Cruise Lines, though Varley says those discussions are not nearly as far along.

Varley said Viking has yet to build any of the ships that would be cruising the Mississippi River. He said the ships would be larger, so the city would have to renovate the dock at Riverview Park to handle them.

“American Cruise Lines can use our existing pier because its ships are smaller,” said Varley. “The Viking cruise ships are larger and need deeper water. So we would have to extend the pier 80 feet and buy a barge for them, which leads to the $1.7 million price tag.”

Varley said Viking has offered $500,000 to help cover that expense, leaving the city on the hook for about $1.2 million. He said that is a deterrent because it’s unclear how Fort Madison would come up with that much money.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.