Viking halts plans to cruise the Mississippi River

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The elegant Mississippi River cruise that was promised by Viking Cruiseline in 2014 will not be coming to port in Red Wing, or any other city along the prospective route, anytime soon.

In the end, it all came down to money.

While Viking has not made an official announcement through its media channels or directly to Red Wing city officials, it's been reported by other news outlets that Viking has "terminated current discussions to build vessels in a U.S. shipyard for Mississippi River and U.S. coastal cruising."

Viking sent the communique directly to David Varley, the city manager of Ft. Madison, Iowa, (a stop along its prospective Mississippi route) saying that, "as the details were being refined, it became apparent the economics did not meet Viking's goals."

Many are blaming the Jones Act for pricing Viking out of the U.S. market. The current law would require Viking to work outside its existing European contracts and instead build in the U.S., a proposal that would nearly double its cost of construction.

Instead, Viking has widely reported that they will add 10 new river and ocean-going ships to its fleet in the next two year with destinations far outside middle America.

Improvements to Levee Park will continue in Red Wing, however, where the single dock is often crowded with passengers.

"I heard there was a time this summer one boat was literally leaving as another was coming in," Community Development Director Dan Rogness said. "We're still obviously moving forward — with or without Viking — because of our need to accommodate up to two boats for Red Wing docking."

The Port Authority has estimated that cruise ships draw $1.6 million to our local economy each year. They have been committed to improving Levee Park and spaces along the riverfront since 2014, when they first started promoting the River Town Renaissance. Other promised outcomes of this project, apart from the increase in docks, include benefits to regional tourism and the environment.

The complete Renaissance project includes five interrelated construction projects that will help Red Wing achieve its vision of becoming one of the premier historic river towns on the Mississippi. Projects include enhanced parking and circulation of cars and pedestrians; renovations to the T.B. Sheldon Memorial Auditorium; docking for recreational boaters; partial reconstruction of the bulkhead wall at Vogel Harbor; and construction of two commercial grade passenger boat docking facilities at Levee Park.

The Chamber of Commerce said that boats docked in Red Wing 17 times this summer which were operated by American Cruise Lines and the American Queen Steamboat Co. They noted that the American Duchess paddlewheeler made its maiden voyage to Red Wing on Sept. 3, 2017.

With the increase in boat traffic, Rogness added it might even be nice to have three docks, if Viking officials ever changed their mind.