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Steamboat, Port Authority bills must wait until next year

Steamboat, Port Authority bills must wait until next year

May 19th, 2019 by Bob Watson and Joe Gamm in Local News

An 1840s illustration from Harper's Weekly shows steamboat traffic at Jefferson City's wharf with the Lohman Building as the hub of activity.

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Two proposals expected to impact the Jefferson City Area's economy — the Steamboat Legacy Fund and land for the Jefferson City port authority — didn't get much traction in this year's legislative session, and will have to be reintroduced next year.

Steamboat Legacy Fund

One of those ideas would have raised the admission fee at Missouri's 13 casinos by $1, with the additional money used to build a Steamboat Museum and a new State Museum in Jefferson City.

Two bills — a House version by Rep. Dave Griffith and a Senate version by Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, both Jefferson City Republicans — had public hearings but never received committee endorsements for floor debate.

Bernskoetter told the News Tribune: "The Steamboat Legacy Fund is going to be a tough one anyway, because the gambling people are against it.

"We didn't get any of the gaming bills done — and I think that was really our only vehicle" to get the plan debated.

Historian and former broadcaster Bob Priddy was the plan's main promoter.

He told the News Tribune last week: "We knew the odds were long to get approval of something this different, especially facing the formidable opposition of the casino industry.

"We put our proposition for a national steamboat museum and a separate state museum building — which has been sought for 90 years by every state museum director — into good hands in the House and Senate."

Priddy has said museum supporters proposed raising the casino fee by $1, because the casino industry got into Missouri using steamboats.

Raising the boarding fee would generate about $39 million a year, based on the industry's recent attendance reports to the state Gaming Commission.

The industry objected to the proposed increase at the committee hearings, arguing casinos — not customers — would pay the extra costs.

The Steamboat Museum proposal was prompted by Kansas City's Steamboat Arabia Museum's losing its lease in November 2026, and its owners back the idea of moving to Jefferson City, with plans to add the salvage from five other wrecked steamboats in the proposed museum.

Priddy has suggested the proposed museum in Jefferson City could be on the hill that overlooks the Missouri River, east of the former Missouri State Penitentiary where the State Surplus Properties facility once was located.

No location for a new state museum has been chosen.

"We 'went to school' this year, talked personally to about 70 percent of the members of the General Assembly, and laid the groundwork for a stronger effort next year," Priddy reported.

However, he said, next year's effort will have competition.

"Several other cities have been awakened to this cause by our efforts and will compete for the steamboat museum next year in one way or another," Priddy said. "We'll be spending the interim months building alliances we didn't have time to build this year and will get an earlier and stronger start for 2020."

Griffith said, in a column: "We will be working with the parties concerned over the summer to find a way to make this happen so we don't lose this museum to Pennsylvania.

"This is a treasure we need to keep in Missouri and I'm working to make sure that happens even if it's not here in Jefferson City."

Port authority

Transferring 116 acres of state-owned land — just east of the Ike Skelton Training Facility in Jefferson City — to the Heartland Port Authority, so that Jefferson City can develop a river port, ultimately was part of a larger bill conveying state property throughout the state.

"I think there's support for that," Bernskoetter said, "but (the bill) wasn't far enough up on the (debate) calendar" to get a Senate discussion and vote.

The bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, had passed the House but died on the Senate calendar.

Bernskoetter said he had found another bill that could have taken the port language — "but it never came up, either."

He plans to introduce it again next year, as does Fitzwater.

Randy Allen, president of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, told the News Tribune he doesn't believe that failing to pass the bill this year will affect the Heartland Port Authority Board's chances for getting grant funding to help with operating funds.

Jeff Haldiman of the News Tribune staff contributed information used in this story.