Officials consider returning U centennial showboat to Minnesota

Brad Ellingson

Right now the dock located at Harriet Island on the Mississippi River sits alone, waiting to be occupied.

Within the next few weeks, it might have some company.

University officials are debating whether or not to send the Minnesota Centennial Showboat on a 1,400-mile trek up the Mississippi River from Greenville, Miss. for a return home.

The University’s old showboat burned down on January 27, 2000, so officials commissioned the construction of its replacement in Greenville. The boat is nearly finished.

“The question is, do we want to winter it down there so that we have better climate to continue to work on it during the winter?” said Sherry Wagner, program director for the department of theatre and dance.

The trip up the river from Greenville to St. Paul will take approximately two weeks, said Jim Kosmo, president of Padelford Packet Boat Co.

After the fire burned everything but the paddle wheel and hull, Padelford Co. founder Capt. William D. Bowell, Sr., agreed to build a new boat at his expense and sell it to the University for a guaranteed price of $2 million.

The showboat provides theater and performance art opportunities for students.

“The first reaction was utter shock that it happened,” said senior theatre major Aaron Kline, of the showboat burning.

“I didn’t buy the fact that something like this happened accidentally,” he said.

The new vessel will seat 226 people, roughly the same amount as the old showboat.

“We decided we wanted the showboat experience to be intimate but more comfortable for folks,” Wagner said.

“We had to rebuild the new boat with code in mind,” she said.

Air conditioning and heating will be featured in the new vessel, allowing year-round operation.

When not in use, the Showboat will be available for rental, with the city of St. Paul, the University, and Padelford Co. splitting the money, Kosmo said.

Padelford Co. will oversee public use of the boat when the University doesn’t need it. The company will also administer maintenance as needed.

“The mission of the showboat is to preserve the art form of melodrama and period musicals,” Wagner said.

The Minnesota Centennial Showboat season will kick off July 4, 2002, with the production of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

“This is a melodramatic interpretation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel … not the musical,” Wagner said.


Brad Ellingson covers construction and facilities and welcomes comments at [email protected]