October 21, 2020

River city working to build $12 million dock for river cruise ships

The scene of the Natchez riverfront could change as the city prepares to welcome American Viking Cruises Line with new cruise docking and ramp facilities.

During Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen, the board unanimously agreed to apply for approximately $9 million from a U.S. Department of Transportation Build Grant with a local match of approximately $1.9 million in hopes of constructing a ramp facility on the Natchez riverfront.

Community Development Director James Johnston said the design for the ramp is not yet site-specific but could be located just south of Magnolia Bluffs Casino and accommodate up to three of American Cruise Line’s vessels.

Johnston said a second part of the plans included in the funding application would entail raising the turnaround on Silver Street near D.A. Biglane in an attempt to prevent the street from flooding.

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said Natchez officials intend to seek help from other partners in order to supply the $1.9 million match.

“There are other boats that dock here in the city who are interested in that ramp for accessibility purposes,” Grennell said. “The city will be requesting money from other sources to help us with our local match.”

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the board unanimously approved signing a letter of intent to lease property to Viking USA LLC for a new docking facility, similar to a letter signed by Vicksburg officials in April.

Though the letter is not equivalent to an actual lease, it does show Natchez’s commitment to leasing city-owned property on the Mississippi riverfront, possibly on Silver Street near Roth Hill, Grennell said.

“All of the plans still need to be worked out, and there’s no specificity at this moment,” Grennell said. “It was designed that way intentionally. … There’s going to be a lot of factors that play a role in the site selection. The U.S. Corps of Engineers, Viking and of course the City of Natchez will all play a part in it. It will need to be on city property.”

Following discussions of the proposed location for the docking facility, Kathleen Bond, the Superintendent of the Natchez National Historical Park, expressed concern for an area known as Little Mexico, an archeologically significant piece of land between the Isle of Capri landing and the Mississippi River Bridge.

Bond requested that city officials file a “Notice of Intent” form with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for actions that may impact archaeological resources on city-owned properties along the Mississippi River.

“I have no problem with doing that,” Grennell said, in reference to seeking MDAH approval on the site.

In the agreement, which lasts for 20 years with a five-year extension, Viking would pay Natchez $1 per passenger aboard its cruises as well as require the same of any other cruises that may use the dock, Grennell said.

The Vicksburg Post reported that Viking has two cruise boats in development that are expected to carry approximately 390 passengers each. The first cruise boat is expected to be complete in 2021 and the second in 2023, the Vicksburg Post reported.

“They want to dock in Natchez, and that is important to this city,” Grennell said. “The beauty of getting an additional ramp for boats to dock and to get the dock needed for Viking and other boats that are going to be coming up river is that it’s going to open up the doors for development in the Natchez Under the Hill area. … We could actually have a true riverfront, with additional businesses there and recreational activities. In addition, it opens up the door for local people to utilize Natchez Under the Hill more so than they are now.”