Jefferson City would gain a new museum focused on the history of Missouri's steamboat heritage, under a bill introduced Tuesday by state Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City.
He wants lawmakers to approve raising the admission fee to the state's gambling boats by $1, with the extra money going to a new Steamboat Legacy Fund.
Money in that fund would, according to the proposed law, be used only for the construction, maintenance and operation of the new museum, which would house books, maps, artifacts and other material related to the significance of the steamboat era in Missouri's history.
Historian Bob Priddy supports the project, and told the News Tribune on Tuesday evening: "We have a chance to have a very special museum here in Jefferson City.
"We hope to have this museum open in 2026, which would be the 200th anniversary of Jefferson City becoming the state capital.
"And 2026 is also when the lease runs out for the Arabia Museum in Kansas City — and that lease will not be renewed."
Priddy said supporters of the proposed new museum have talked with — and have the support of — the Arabia Museum to move its contents to the proposed new museum here.
"The people at the Arabia hope to dig up the Malta, which sank in the Missouri River near where the present community of Malta Bend (in Saline County) exists," he said.
It sank in 1841, while the Arabia went down in 1856 in an area northwest of Kansas City.
If successful, the artifacts from that older steamboat wreck also would be included in the new museum — with space to spare for other finds, as well.
Priddy said the museums are important for "the stories that the cargoes tell. If you go to the Steamboat Arabia Museum, you don't see just cargo sitting there — but you see the people that cargo was going to be used by and worn by.
"You get a new idea of what the frontier was about, and a new idea of who these people were (even though) we don't know their names, but we know some of their personal things that were left on that boat" when it sank.
Priddy said supporters of the new museum expect opposition from the casino industry, which has "capitalized on the state's steamboat heritage from day one, and they continue to capitalize on it to the tune of several hundred million dollars every year," but have opposed other efforts to change the current $2 admission fee for people who gamble at Missouri's casino boats.
Bernskoetter couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday evening on the proposal, but Priddy and Bernskoetter are scheduled to hold a news conference at 3 p.m. today to explain more about it.