Guest Article: The Lowell Showboat — Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

The following was written by Mark Mundt, a member of the Showboat Committee.


With the arrival of the framework for the new showboat, the Showboat Committee thought it was time to recap how we got here and what the future holds for the new Lowell Showboat (#6)! Even though this is a little long it’s a pretty high flyover of what has been happening with replacing the showboat.

About four years ago, a committee of about 15 people began meeting to develop plans to bring a new showboat to Lowell. This committee, spearheaded by the Chamber of Commerce, was made up of a broad spectrum of people from the greater Lowell area. It included people from the schools, civic organizations, the City, the press, local non-profits and citizens at large from Vergennes and Lowell Townships as well as the City of Lowell.

Fun Fact: For about the last 20 years the showboat has been owned by the City of Lowell and managed by the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. This came about when the showboat faced hard financial times due to significant drop in revenue caused by weather related issues. As a City asset, it falls under the responsibilities of the Lowell Parks Committee. Also worth noting; around 2018 the City council did formally adopt “The Lowell Showboat” as the official name of the new showboat.

From the beginning the goal of the committee was to build a showboat that would represent the long, proud history of the Lowell Showboat and last a very long time. Discussions also focused on what would the use of the new showboat be. The group envisioned a wide variety of things the new boat could be used for including; weddings, wedding receptions, bridal showers, baby showers, family reunions, graduation parties, business meetings, fundraising events, etc. and of course the new home for Santa visits. In short, the vision was for a boat that could be used for much more than the previous boat, which for the most part had a very limited amount of uses, which were primarily as the backdrop to the summer concerts and Santa visits.

Fun Fact: The City and the committee could not find any governmental agency that would have regulatory authority over the boat. Even though it will float on water, it won’t have motors so maritime regulations do not apply. Likewise, since it isn’t being built on land, local building codes don’t apply. Putting that aside, it has always been the desire of the City and the committee to build the boat following current building codes.

Early on the group was leaning toward building a showboat like structure over the water on pilings in the river. After several discussions with the State (DEQ/DNR/EGLE), that idea was abandoned. With the group now focused on a floating structure, discussions began on what the showboat should be made of and what it would look like. Showboat #5 lasted about 40 years, which was much longer than any of the previous showboats. The committee felt confident that with the right materials the new showboat could easily last 75-100 years. With that in mind the committee decided to recommend the use of steel for the structure of the new boat.

At the same time the look of the showboat began to take shape. Although none of the previous 5 showboats really looked anything alike, the committee was leaning toward a boat that looked very similar to the showboat that was being replaced and final designs began to emerge.

Also early on, the committee decided for a variety of reasons that there would not be any running water on the boat. For this reason remodeling a portion of the old DPW building to have restroom facilities is also part of this project.

Fun Fact: Even though it may not look like it, the new boat is only about six feet wider, twenty feet longer and four feet taller than the old boat.

Late spring/early summer of 2017, the City received word from [Michigan Senator] Dave Hildenbrand’s office that Mr. Hildenbrand had secured $1,000,000 of state funds to assist with the construction of the new showboat. With this funding secured, the committee sent their design documents to a maritime engineering firm to develop blueprints for the construction of the steel structure of the showboat. This would ensure that the showboat would be built to maritime specifications.

With the design of the boat now well underway the committee was pared down to a smaller group that began to focus on the fit and finish of the new boat. This new committee began working with industry professionals for things like heating and air-conditioning, electrical, construction, finishes and furnishings. The goal was to have a finished showboat that would be an attractive venue that could be used year round.

Once the blueprints for the structure were secured, bids were solicited from companies that build steel boats. As you might expect this is a somewhat specialized industry. At the same time the committee began putting together a budget for finishing the boat. Based upon the cost to build the steel structure and the estimate to finish the boat, the committee reached back out to Mr. Hildenbrand for additional help from the State. Mr. Hildenbrand was able to add an additional $1,300,000 in State funds to our project.

With the additional funding from the state, the City awarded the bid to build the steel structure. As luck would have it, a boat builder located in Onaway, Michgan submitted a bid and was selected to do that work.

With the construction of the structure now underway, the committee began putting together formal construction documents for the finish work. This work includes: windows, doors, electrical, HVAC, carpet, wall finishes, an elevator, a grand staircase, lighting, etc. Bids for this work were received at the beginning of June.

Although several fundraising efforts took place early on in the process, the committee halted formal fundraising efforts until final costs were known. Now that those costs are known, the committee has begun to restart the fundraising efforts. A new fundraising committee is currently being organized. Initial fundraising will likely be “Naming Opportunities” where individuals, groups, families and businesses can put their name on various parts of the boat. For example; the paddle wheel, the pilot house, bow deck, 1st deck, elevator, etc.

In the meantime, so the boat can be finished and use can begin, the committee has asked the City to borrow the necessary funds to finish the boat. The committee is confident that between “Naming Opportunities,” a few other fundraisers over the next couple of years and the revenue generated from rental fees, the loan can easily be repaid.

Fun Fact: With the exception of about $100,000 that was spent on maritime blueprints, all of the rest of the money to build the new Lowell Showboat has been/will be spent within the State of Michigan and most of that will be spent in the greater Grand Rapids area. To date no local tax dollars have been spent on the boat and the plan is that none will be when this project is completed.

In summary, the Showboat Committee has been working very hard for a very long time to bring a new showboat to our community that will be another jewel in the crown that makes Lowell the wonderful community that it is. A jewel that will sit alongside of things like the footbridge over the Grand River, our expansive trail system, the Pink Arrow Project, FROM, Gilda’s Club, etc., all the things that make Lowell the place people want to call home.

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