Showboat Arrival Delayed to Spring 2020

The new Lowell Showboat was expected to start construction this summer.  However, according to City Manager Mike Burns, “plan modifications and procurement issues” will delay the beginning of construction until the fall.  The hull and frame are now anticipated to be in Lowell sometime in May 2020.

Spring Arrival

The shell of the new Showboat was originally scheduled to be completed the end of this year.  The delay could be seen as a good thing for the City of Lowell.  “Weather conditions and frost laws as they are, the boat would be in storage for three months before it arrived.” says Burns via email.  Having a completed boat in storage would be a significant cost in the project which can now be avoided.

Jim VanOverloop of JAVO Construction in Hudsonville was recently approved to oversee the construction phase of the boat as well as preparing the structure once in Lowell for interior work.  The Showboat will arrive in sections and be welded together on-site. Once in place, mechanical and electrical work can begin.  The final stage will be interior design.

According to Assistant City Manager Rich LaBombard, “Getting the right people in the right positions has been key.”  An architect and interior are also in place for the project and ready for when their portion of the rebuild will be needed.  And Captain Chris Chamberlain is the owner’s representative, bringing his experience with boating to the project.

Construction of an aluminum boat which will be used to offer kayak tours at Pictured Rocks nearing completion.  This boat is about 40 feet shorter than the new Showboat.

Expert in Boat Construction

Moran Iron Works is located in Onaway, MI at the top of the lower peninsula of Michigan.  The new Showboat’s construction will take place at a facility there. The company was founded in 1978 by Thomas Moran.  Over the past decades they have worked on projects including ocean-going barges, lighthouse restoration, and passenger ferries.  Moran says that the Showboat is “a unique combination of several of those”.

Sculpture of Lincoln created by Moran Iron Works founder Thomas Moran.

One of the first projects Moran Iron Works took on, 40 years ago, was rebuilding of a dredge for a local dredging company.  Since then the company has rebuilt or modified an excess of one dozen boats. Six vessels have been completely built at their facility.   The creation of the Lowell’s Showboat will be in experienced hands. Moran says of the qualifications of his business for the project, “All custom fabricating has a high level of difficulty, but Marine construction has several aspects that make it even more challenging. The team here at Moran Iron Works are up for those challenges and I am proud to be included in that team.”

Moran not only works with boat construction and repair, but has a personal side gig as an amateur sculptor.  His creations are often entered into the local town parade and then displayed in a sculpture park nearby the Moran Iron Works facility.    

Rebuild Fundraising

The City has already received two grants from the State of Michigan which total $2.3 million. An estimated $3 million will be needed to complete the project.  Some fundraising has already taken place, but a fundraising group will work in the coming months on securing additional funds.

Two years ago the Lowell Rotary Auction, Denim and Diamonds, raised money for the Showboat.  This year’s auction proceeds will be split between the club’s international projects and the Showboat.  A total of $19,385.56 was raised for the Showboat through bidding on auction items. An additional $1,620.00 was secured through the purchase of Showboat memorabilia at the event.  Items which remained after the event are still available at Red Barn Consignment & Antiques with money raised going toward rebuilding the Showboat.  In the future businesses and individuals will able to donate funds through sponsorship, however details are still being formulated.  Approximately $500,000.00 is still needed to fully fund the project.

Rendering of the new Showboat.

Functions of the New Boat and Beyond

There is a lot to look forward to when it comes to the new Showboat.  It will look similar to the boat which was removed the end of February, but it will be larger and serve as a more functional piece.  Although, no, it won’t move from its spot. The footprint of the new Showboat will be 30×110 feet, which is larger than the previous boat.  The boat will have approximately 4,000 square feet of enclosed space and a similar amount of open deck area throughout the three levels. Gatherings of up to 230 people will be able to take place on the Showboat.

A public address system will be installed for inside and outside use on the boat.  While there will be no kitchen on the boat, there will be space available for ease of setting up food.  Electricity will allow warming if necessary. Additionally, flat screen TVs will be placed in rooms so business meetings, photo montages, or other media can be shared during events taking place.  Rooms on the boat will have the ability to be heated and cooled depending on the season meaning the boat will be able to be used throughout the year.

Santa’s inability to use the Showboat in recent years to greet visitors has resulted in a temporary move to the former DPW building along the Riverwalk.  As part of the rebuilding the Showboat, this area will also get a facelift. This project will take place in phases, but the first phase will be completed alongside the completion of the new Showboat and will include public restrooms.  

The building will also house a kitchen and additional rooms available for rent as well as an area for a bride to change and have access to a private bathroom should a wedding take place on the new vessel.  It’s also possible that some of the space in the building will available as rental space for businesses. The complete redevelopment of the area and possible amenities is still under consideration.

New Lowell Icon Coming Next Year

While a delay in having a new Showboat in place isn’t desirable, there’s confidence from the City that the new boat will be in place and ready for events in 2020.  Some aspects of interior and exterior design are yet to be determined. LaBombard has visions of calliope music playing from the Showboat each day at noon and a moving paddle wheel that turns, but does not propel the boat.  With his upcoming departure from Lowell to a new position in Douglas, only time will tell as to whether his visions come to fruition.

Photos aside from the featured image are courtesy of Rich LaBombard, Assistant City Manager, and used with permission.

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