A Winona nonprofit has purchased the Minnesota Centennial Showboat, but still needs to raise money to transport it to Winona.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
The Minnesota Centennial Showboat is one step closer to its new home in Winona, Minn., following the sale of the ship to the William A. Thomson Dredge Museum, a nonprofit led by Bob Harris and Dave Belz. But it comes with a catch — a $20,000 to $30,000 catch.
On July 9, Harris signed the bill of sale officializing the transfer of the boat to his ownership.
However, the Dredge Museum now has until August 10 per the contract to transport the showboat out of St. Paul. While it is an extension from the original move date of July 1, Harris said it still does not leave much time.
“It’s peak shipping season, and construction is behind due to high water,” Harris explained, adding that they are having trouble finding someone with the equipment and time to bring it down and keep it affordable.
According to Harris, estimates for the transportation costs are between $20,000 and $30,000, which is nearly half the price of the actual boat itself. While the deadline is tight, Angie Tillges, the Great River Passage Fellow for the city of St. Paul and the overseer of the project, is still confident that the boat will find itself in Winona before too long.
“We feel confident that Mr. Harris will get everything organized,” Tillges said. “So we are working on the assumption that he have it moved by that date.”
The Centennial Showboat is a replica of a Victorian-style river boat created by the University of Minnesota to celebrate the state’s Centennial in 1958, and was used up until 2016. Harris’ intention is to get the boat down to Winona and docked at the old railroad swing bridge near Latsch beach. While photos of the ship can be convincing, Harris insisted that being in the boat is an entirely different experience.
“I always like to say they can see it, touch, and stand right on it,” Harris said.
Once the boat makes its way down the Mississippi River, it will be open for public performances and rental. With a theater with a capacity of 225 people, two levels of outdoor decks, and a large reception area, the showboat will become one of the largest venues in Winona.
But getting it ready is not an easy process, Harris explained.
“The next step is moving down, followed by piling, dredging, and dockage. It’ll also need a good cleaning, but otherwise it’s in great shape,” Harris said. The process is long, he added, but it will be worth the wait.
For the initial bid, the Dredge Museum raised its funds through small donations, which the group is still relying on for the third phase of the process. “We were constantly getting small donations, from businesses and individuals who’d stop in to donate. I just had somebody today who donated $100 for the cause,” Harris said, adding that donations have started to slow down. He explained he hadn’t had time to check the account, with him working seven days a week and saving what money he can to put toward the move, but more donations are always welcome.
“One way or another, it’s coming down the river,” he said, “but we need all the help we can get.”
Donations may be sent to Winona National Bank, PO Box 499, Winona, Minn., or delivered in person to Winona National Bank. Additionally, Citizens State Bank in La Crosse offers a program called “WeCare” which donates to specific nonprofits including the William A. Thomson Dredge Museum. For more information, contact Bob Harris at 507-429-3797 or Dave Belz at 507-452-1751.