Regents consider showboat replacement

Erin Ghere

The Minnesota Centennial Showboat set the stage for a little bit of everything for 68 years.
It set the scene for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Romeo and Juliet.” The floating theater hosted dramatizations of Sherlock Holmes’ investigations and Dracula’s bloodsucking exploits.
But during a restoration project in January, a fire ignited by a welding spark destroyed the theater department’s floating stage.
The University’s Board of Regents is expected to approve the purchase of a new $2 million floating theater. St. Paul-based Padelford Packet Boat Company has offered to work with the theater and arts department to deliver a boat by mid-November, 2001.
A presentation Thursday by St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman and College of Liberal Arts Dean Steve Rosenstone about the new boat was well received, being unanimously approved by a regents’ committee, said Tom Trow, director of CLA’s Community and Cultural Affairs.
After several setbacks, University officials have negotiated the purchase of a new showboat for the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.
The Padelford Packet Boat Company, founded in 1969, will build the new showboat. The historic replica of a 19th century floating theater will seat 220 audience members and have a main deck lobby with a bow window and a grand staircase.
The boat will be fully handicapped-accessible, heated and air-conditioned, and have a large reception area on the upper deck, with a screened-in and glassed-in lounge.
The 1,480 square-foot stage and backstage area will have complete theatrical lighting and sound systems provided by the University.
The original showboat was a training ground for actors as well as a production theater for the community. Students design, produce and perform the shows.
“There’s nothing like the showboat, both for audiences and for our students,” said Lance Brockman, chairman of the Theatre Arts and Dance Department.
Since January’s fire, the University appeared to be in line to purchase an old casino boat, the Southern Star, but it was sold to another buyer.
“It’s been extraordinary to experience the tremendous amount of affection and enthusiasm there is for this great Minnesota tradition,” Rosenstone said.
Once built, the showboat will be docked at the newly redeveloped Harriet Island Regional Park in St. Paul.
Coleman said the showboat will be an important part of the park.
“It’s a natural partnership that brings together the family-friendly performances from the University with our visitors to Harriet Island,” he said.
Padelford gave the University a deal it couldn’t refuse, Trow explained. With a price tag the University can afford and a deadline for completion, a showboat will soon return to the University.
Padelford approached University officials with its ideas for the showboat, just when officials were becoming discouraged, Trow said.
One roadblock University officials faced was price, but Padelford gave them a fixed price of $2 million and said it would contribute any additional cost.
The boat will be purchased with funds from private contributors and from the University’s insurance settlement after the fire.
The showboat’s move to Harriet Island will happen as soon as it is ready. A dock, ticket booth and bathroom facilities already await the boat’s arrival.
The boat will sit alongside other sternwheelers and dockside restaurants. Each summer, there will be 80 performances given aboard the centennial showboat.
St. Paul Parks and Recreation donated the site.
The collaboration between the University and Padelford, as well as other groups, also means Padelford will maintain the floating theater once operational and work to get other groups interested in the showboat for weddings, meetings and other performances.

Erin Ghere welcomes comments at [email protected]