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CL Port keeps flagship under new agreement

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

April 22, 2006

The Port of Cascade Locks finalized the deal to lease out operations of the Sternwheeler Columbia Gorge this week.

On Wednesday night, American Waterways officially took over management of the paddlewheel replica. Capt. Misty Parker took her usual place behind the wheel of the vessel.

“Last night they did their first cruise and it was successful on all counts,” said Chuck Daughtry, port director, on Thursday morning.

Parker and Capt. Tom Cramblett have both negotiated new jobs with the company that owns the Portland Spirit line.

Daughtry was unsure if Capt. Randy Holmstrom would be returning to the boat. He said all of the former employees were given the opportunity to interview with American. And former port staffer Shelley Lomax had already moved into the position of sales event coordinator.

Daughtry said the port will now be able to climb out of its annual budget hole for sternwheeler expenses. That deficit, which had averaged about $100,000 each year, reached $250,000 in 2005.

In addition to being freed from routine expenses, Daughtry said the port will receive $50,000 each year as a share of American’s profit margin.

The company has also agreed to sink $200,000 into renovations of the craft within the next year. And spend $75,000 each year thereafter for work beyond routine maintenance.

“It’s just a great arrangement. We don’t view this as a failure, we view it as the next step forward,” said Daughtry.

He said the port purchased the sternwheeler 23 years ago but was unable to gain enough riders to keep the operation running in the black. In fact, Daughtry said the port has lost $3.3 million over the last decade in spite of spending an annual $150,000-$200,000 in recent years on a marketing campaign.

He said because of the continued financial problems, the port was unable to upgrade the boat as needed to meet changing consumer trends.

Since the agency didn’t want to sell the $3.5 million investment, or dry-dock it altogether, Daughtry said the lease was the best available option.

“It just made sense to turn the operations over to a company that had the resources to build on what we had accomplished,” he said.

According to the terms of the lease agreement, American will keep the sternwheeler at its home port in Cascade Locks during the peak tourist months from May through October. Daughtry is hopeful that American will establish an off-season market so visitors can enjoy a winter excursion in the scenic setting.

He said American plans to bring Outrageous, a jet boat, into the Gorge and run it from another port-owned dock above Bonneville Dam.

Daughtry said without sternwheeler expenditures, or staffing the visitor center which will now be run by American, the port can focus on creating other economic development opportunities.

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