It could remain a theater, or a restaurant and bar could move in. Perhaps a movie screen will replace the ornate proscenium arch framing the stage.
St. Paul officials are not sure what the future holds for the former Minnesota Centennial Showboat permanently moored at Harriet Island Regional Park. But they are curious to find out.
The city recently bought the boat from the University of Minnesota for $1. The U’s Department of Theatre Arts & Dance, which previously used the boat for summer performances, decided that 2016 would be its final season there.
Now St. Paul is asking people to get creative and propose uses and management plans for the 14-year-old boat, which is designed to look like it was built in 1899. Cities around the world have repurposed riverboats in a variety of ways, from a floating movie theater in London to an environmental innovation lab in Miami.
“Cities are reimagining their assets of fleets of boats and barges, and really using them in creative ways to serve the public. And we feel like we have a great opportunity to do that here,” said Angie Tillges, who is working on the Great River Passage initiative that aims to better connect St. Paul with the Mississippi River.
People who want to contract with the city to manage the boat have until Dec. 30 to submit proposals with their vision, experience and financial plan. They will be able to check out the riverboat this week. City officials are offering site visits at 5 p.m. Tuesday and 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
A committee of city officials, industry professionals and community members will evaluate proposals. Tillges expects to have a manager selected by this spring. She would like to see the boat in operation, at least in part, this summer. How quickly the contractor can get the boat operating will depend on how big of a change the plans require.
Council Member Rebecca Noecker, whose ward includes that section of riverfront, said she is eager to see people’s ideas. She would like the boat to become a “magnet” for people around the metro.
Financial troubles, stemming from flooding in 2014, contributed to the U’s decision to sell the boat, said Anika Carlsted, assistant director for facilities and capital planning at the College of Liberal Arts. There are other stages on campus — ones with a bit more versatility — for students to use, and it no longer made sense to own the riverboat but only perform in it a month or two every year, Carlsted said.
Padelford Riverboats, the company that managed the boat for the U, held occasional holiday parties and weddings there in the off season.
City officials are looking for a manager who would offer year-round programming at the boat. They would like to see the boat used for multiple purposes, such as a theater and restaurant and bar.
Having events at the boat all year would be good for other businesses in the area, said Gus Gaspardo, president of Padelford Riverboats, which is located nearby. But getting people to attend winter events can be challenging, he said.
“It’s obviously difficult to get people to wrap their heads around going on a boat when it’s 5 below,” he said.
Nonetheless, he is optimistic about the venue’s future.
“The boat needs some new energy and new ideas,” Gaspardo said. His company does not plan to submit a proposal to the city. “There are a lot of creative people in this town, and I’m certain they’ll find the right fit.”