Old casino boat towed to Alton
By CYNTHIA ELLIS
October 9, 2008 - 10:55PM
ALTON - One of the country's first floating casinos is docked east of the Clark Bridge, where it will spend the next four to six weeks being dismantled by a local scrap company and then moved 85 miles inland.
Patterson Structural Movers Inc. towed the former President Casino up the Mississippi River on Thursday from Mike's Inc. in Wood River to Azcon Scrap Co. in Alton.
David Campbell, one of the steamboat's owners, said crews would disassemble the five-story vessel into 15 sections so that it can be moved to St. Elmo, Ill., where it will be turned into an 80-room hotel, convention center and museum.
Campbell said the 300-foot long, 84-foot-wide and 65-foot-tall vessel would be placed on piers in a lake so that it would not move. He said the project is being done by a group of investors with assistance from St. Elmo."
It will be permanently moored in Tower Lake along Interstate 70," Campbell said. "It's going to be a big boost to the economy there.
"Plans are to preserve the steamboat's historical integrity, he said, and turn it into a destination place."We want to renovate it so that it's representative of the 1940s and '50s era," Campbell said.
He said initial plans were to keep the boat near the Mississippi River, but no cities showed interest in the project. St. Elmo conducted a feasibility study and determined that it would be a good project for the community, he said.
Campbell said that St. Elmo is investing $2 million in the project for infrastructure work, which will include roads, sewer, water lines, a parking lot and lighting.A group of seven people has invested in the project, and although several of them came to watch the vessel be towed to the scrap yard, they did not want to comment about the project, other than to say it's going to be a boost for St. Elmo.
"A lot of people didn't think this would ever happen," one of the investors said. "You just have to envision what it will be.
"As the boat pulled into the scrap yard, it attracted a lot of attention from onlookers. The stacks could be seen by drivers along River Heritage Parkway (Illinois Route 143), peeking above the Wood River Levee.
Many were curious as to why the boat was docked in Alton, and others simply were interested as to why so many camera crews were around.
A crew from the Discovery Channel cable television network was on site and aboard the vessel to film the move for a program called "Mega Moves.
" The crew will document the entire process, which will air following the start of the new season in January.
There also is interest in making a historical documentary about the vessel, which includes telling the history of not only the casino, but the people who entertained the masses.
"The last band to play on it was U2," Campbell said.
Other musical artists who performed aboard the venue include Louis Armstrong, Tina Turner and Arlo Guthrie.
Campbell said he purchased the vessel, which was built in 1923, about five years ago. He moved it about two years ago from Memphis, Tenn., to Mike's Inc., where it remained until Thursday.
The boat once served along the Ohio River. In 1933, it was brought to St. Louis, where it opened as a passenger steamship and later became an entertainment vessel. President Casinos in Davenport, Iowa, opened it as one of the country's first gaming vessels in 1991.
Campbell said that during the next three weeks, work would take place inside the boat. Starting in the third week, he said, crews would begin dismantling the vessel, which would be more noticeable.
"It has to be moved to St. Elmo by the end of December," Campbell said.Campbell said once the pieces are relocated, the vessel would be reassembled and renovation work would start.
"If everything goes as planned, we should be open by the end of next year," he said.
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