Delta Queen to be Chattanooga hotel

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Delta Queen will host overnight guests again — but supporters hope it’s a temporary move.

For a video of the Delta Quuen, click here

The steam-powered riverboat has been leased by its owner to a Chattanooga company for use as a dockside hotel, according to the Save the Delta Queen Campaign, a private group tracking developments.

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“Our mission is to make sure that indeed, this is a temporary move and the Delta Queen will soon be back in operation, plying the entire Mississippi River system as she has done proudly and safely for 60 years,” said chairman Vicki Webster.

The Delta Queen was taken out of the overnight passenger business Nov. 1, when its longtime exemption from the Safety of Life at Seas Act expired. It was the only steam-powered passenger boat still offering cruises on the Mississippi and its tributaries, but because it had a superstructure made of wood, it could not pass U.S. Coast Guard standards and required congressional exemptions.

After 60 years of docking in Vicksburg on its travels up and down the river, it made what might be its final stop here Nov. 3. Towns up and down the river also are  forecasting hits to tourism, not only due to the absence of the Delta Queen from the river, but also its newer sister vessels, the Mississippi Queen and the American Queen. All are owned by Majestic America Cruises, a subsidiary of Ambassadors International, that has said all the boats are for sale and is taking no bookings for any cruises this year.

Congressional bills filed to extend the Delta Queen’s exemption from SOLAS stalled in committee during the last legislative session. Supporters hope to try again as the new Congress convenes this month.

In addition, the Delta Queen was nominated in December as one of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places.

Ambassadors International will lease the boat to Harry Phillips, owner of Chattanooga Water Taxi and Fat Cat Ferry. Phillips will operate it as a “historic, boutique hotel” while it and the other boats remain for sale.

The Delta Queen is to travel up the Mississippi from New Orleans next month past Vicksburg and then navigate up the Tennessee River and moor at Coolidge Park Landing in Chattanooga, the company said.

Selections by the trust that lists endangered places will be announced in April. “We are counting on the trust to come through,” Webster said. “And it should be a no-brainer. There is only one example of the steamboats that inspired the work of such creative giants as Mark Twain, Jerome Kern, Louis Armstrong, Edna Ferber and Walker Evans. To stand idly by and watch the destruction of the Delta Queen would … be an act of pure treachery to our culture, to the pioneers who came before us, and to future generations who deserve the chance to travel on this quintessentially American treasure.”

The Delta Queen will be operated by Sydney Slome, owner of Chattanooga’s StoneFort Inn, and the lease specifies the boat cannot be altered.

Slome said he is committed to re-creating the spirit of the Delta Queen for visitors and overnight guests. “The Delta Queen is a glorious tribute to our river history, and it is my honor to serve her,” he said. The boat has 87 cabins. Slome plans to book shows aboard and also offer tours of the engine room to show steam technology — a mode of transportation that helped revolutionize the world.

Ambassadors International, which also owns Windstar Cruises, is based in Newport Beach, Calif.


Contact Pam Hitchins at