Century-old St. Louis riverboat being scrapped

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A century-old riverboat-turned-casino that folded under withering competition from the St. Louis region’s growing array of gambling sites is headed to a scrapyard, piece by piece.

Crews are dismantling the S.S. Admiral along the Mississippi River at St. Louis, months after a would-be auction failed to attract what the owner considered serious bids for the vessel that until last summer was The President Casino.

Gateway Marine Services’ Bill Kline told the Belleville News-Democrat that about a half dozen of his company’s workers are using saws, cutting torches and other tools to pick apart the once-shimmering, floating giant with an Art Deco look.

“The boat’s being recycled,” Kline said, noting that the dismantling must be done meticulously. “Old boats tend to be like an archaeological dig. The materials are in layers, so you have to be very conscious of flammable material. So you can’t just break out the torches and go at it.”

The work on the river’s Missouri side, beneath the Martin Luther King Bridge linking the state with Illinois, will take about a month before the boat will be taken to Alton, Ill., just south of St. Louis for completion.

Kline called the Alton site preferable, given that it has better access and the location of locks and a dam there mean the river conditions don’t vary as much.

At tens of thousands of square feet, the vessel was billed in the auction postings as the world’s biggest inland entertainment vessel.

Built in 1907 as a Mississippi-crossing ferry, the boat was lengthened by 70 feet in the 1930s and converted into what was then the only air-conditioned excursion boat, according to the eBay listing.

The President was among Missouri’s first casinos after the state legalized casino gambling in 1993. But over time, the vessel permanently moored near the equally glistening Gateway Arch became by far the St. Louis area’s smallest casino and was hampered by its age, size and location.

Flooding over the past several years frequently forced it to close temporarily, and its business suffered as more modern, fancier casinos cropped up around St. Louis. In December 2007, Pinnacle opened a massive downtown casino called Lumiere Place just a few hundred yards from the President, hastening the boat’s demise.

And in March of last year, Pinnacle opened its River City Casino in south St. Louis County.

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