Tuesday January 4, 2005
Mayor Jerry Abramson announced today that the Waterfront Development Corporation (WDC) will assume temporary management of the Belle of Louisville and Spirit of Jefferson riverboats after the contract with the current managing company expires January 30.
Hornblower Marine Services-Kentucky informed Metro Government last month that it could not continue operating under the terms of the current contract, originally signed with Jefferson County Fiscal Court in February 2002. Officials with Hornblower said that operating expenses for the riverboats had significantly exceeded revenues in the last two years because of increases in fuel costs, employee benefits and homeland-security requirements, and a soft economy.
Under the 2002 contract, Hornblower received a $210,000 annual management fee and agreed to split all operating losses and profits with local government. Hornblower owes Louisville Metro Government more than $200,000 for losses from 2003 and an undermined amount from 2004.
“The Belle of Louisville is a true community treasure,” Abramson said. “We want to ensure that Louisville residents and visitors alike can continue to enjoy the riverboat experience.” Abramson asked David Karem, WDC president, and Matt Thornton, WDC board chairman, to assume temporary management of the riverboats for several months until a permanent operating solution is determined. The WDC also agreed with the mayor’s request to work with the administration to prepare a long-term business plan for operating the Belle and the Spirit in a way that the riverboats are sustained as community attractions.
“The Waterfront Development Corporation is happy to step in and help continue the operation of these wonderful river assets,” Thornton said. “At the mayor’s request, we will, in the coming months, take a close look at how the boats can be operated so that their future is secure.”
Karem said that WDC officials will be meeting with Belle of Louisville officials immediately to learn more about the operating details, and will begin pursuing the short- and long-term operational plans.
Hornblower has been operating the boats with a year-round crew of 16 and 41 seasonal employees added during warm-weather months. Under the temporary-management arrangement, WDC will receive operating funds from the Belle/Spirit account managed by Louisville Metro Government. Capital funds also are budgeted for winter repairs to the vessels.