High waters trigger rough seas for Metro's riverfront cruises

2011-09-20T00:00:00Z 2011-09-29T09:10:58Z High waters trigger rough seas for Metro's riverfront cruisesBY KEN LEISER • kleiser@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8215 stltoday.com

ST. LOUIS • High water levels on the Mississippi River last year cost Metro 54 cruising days on the Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher riverboats and contributed to a $376,000 operating loss for the agency's riverfront attractions.

In Metro's latest quarterly financial reports, the bistate agency added that riverboat patronage dropped by 28 percent from the previous 12-month period.

Last year, 76,230 passengers boarded 816 river cruises. Metro reported 105,887 riverboat passengers and 1,022 cruises the previous year.

Metro officials said the agency normally budgeted 275 days of cruising per year.

Metro spokeswoman Dianne Williams said the riverboat cruises are halted when the river hits a flood stage of 30 feet. The agency also takes into consideration large debris in the river and swift currents when deciding whether to suspend operations.

Overall riverfront attractions — which also include bike rentals and a heliport — generated nearly $1.8 million, the agency reported.

The Mississippi River attractions are a relatively small part of Metro's overall operation, which includes regional transit, St. Louis Downtown Airport and the Arch parking garage. Metro is formally known as the Bi-State Development Agency.

The fourth-quarter financial statements, which cover the last budget year, were released to the Metro commission this week.

Overall, the nontransit business enterprises remain profitable, Metro officials said.

Unlike the transit operations, the riverboat attractions are not subsidized by local taxes, Williams said.

From the riverboat base near the steps of the Gateway Arch, the agency offers one-hour sightseeing cruises that range from $8 for children ages 3-12 to $14 for people 13 and older. Two-hour dinner cruises go for $42 for adults and $20 for children.

The riverboats have been on the Mississippi for about 45 years.

"These things tend to go in cycles," said Jenny Nixon, senior vice president for business enterprise at Metro. "We have had good years with the riverboats, and we have had disappointing years. Obviously, we have no control over high water."

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