The Delta Queen steamboat sailed away from Chattanooga on Sunday afternoon after a five-year sojourn.
Several hundred people waved goodby from the Walnut Street Bridge above the longtime Coolidge Park mooring site.
The Market Street Bridge was opened to make way for the huge ship.
New owner Cornel Martin said he was grateful to Chattanooga for keeping the historic steamboat in use as a dockside hotel while giving time to raise the money to refurbish it.
He said the Delta Queen will undergo a full renovation before navigating America’s waterways once again in 2016 as an overnight passenger vessel.
“It has always been our vision to see the Delta Queen restored and put back into service,” said Mr. Martin, president and CEO of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. “Her restoration has been a long time coming, and we are thrilled for passengers to soon have the opportunity to explore America’s heartland onboard an authentic 1927 steamboat whose history is as rich as the rivers it sails.”
Steamboat supporters were invited to purchase tickets to Sunday’s grand farewell event for $25 per ticket. Guests followed the tug-assisted Delta Queen’s journey out of Chattanooga on board the chartered Southern Belle, traveling under the Market Street Bridge and down river through Moccasin Bend to Williams Island for calliope music, refreshments and a historic send-off.
The two boats exchange whistle blows before the Delta Queen continued to make her way down the Mississippi River.
“More than a farewell, this is a welcoming of the Delta Queen back on to the river where she belongs,” said Leah Ann Ingram, vice president, COO and part owner of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. “Voyagers aboard her decks will be able to enjoy majestic views and stop-overs at historic ports of call where the region’s vibrant history, natural beauty and modern attractions will all be at their fingertips.”
Once restored, the Delta Queen will carry 176 passengers as well as 120 crew members and is scheduled to begin offering three-, four- and five-day trips in 2016 for roughly $350 per night. According to Ms. Ingram, this will translate into close to 300 jobs, $13 million in direct economic impact, as well as an additional $30 million to $40 million in indirect economic impact, for the Queen’s new home port city, which is undecided.
From 1946 to 2008, the Delta Queen operated as an overnight cruise vessel along many of America’s prominent river and waterways, including the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Arkansas Rivers. Later on, the vessel functioned as a dockside hotel in Chattanooga, from 2009 until 2014. The Delta Queen is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is classified as a National Historic Landmark. The steamboat has also recently been designated as a National Treasure of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Several cities are vying to become the Delta Queen’s new home port, including Baton Rouge; St. Louis; New Orleans, and Cincinnati. While the Delta Queen is saying goodbye to Chattanooga, Ms. Ingram indicates the Queen will be returning to the city during her 2016 cruise circulations, visiting the city on a 24-hour turnaround.
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