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Rough landing

Madison city officials struggling
to find operator for boat dock

By Don Ward
Editor

(March 2006) – Ever since The Wharf floating barge pulled its restaurant and boat docks out of town in January 2005, Madison city officials have struggled to find a replacement operator to provide transient and permanent boat dock operations on the riverfront. Madison Mayor Al Huntington says he remains committed to finding an operator, preferably before the summer season sets in, but currently he has none in place. That means Madison, much of whose tourism attraction is connected to the Ohio River, may go a second summer without boat docks in town.

Madison Boat Docks

Photo by Don Ward

Boaters were forced to beach their crafts
on shore at the 2005 Madison Ribberfest
because no dock was available.

Last summer, the city allowed out-of-town boaters to beach their watercrafts along the shoreline during weekends and festivals, such as the Madison Ribberfest and Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art. But that is not the best situation for boaters, Huntington said, because they could sustain damage. Plus, there are no water or electric facilities being provided to them.
“It doesn’t look real good right now, and I’m not real happy about it,” Huntington said. “I’m pretty open to anything anyone would bring in here.”
Despite his frustration, Huntington remains committed to a boat dock of some kind. “We know that the river is an important part of our tourism efforts because people come here by boat and shop in our stores and eat at our restaurants. I don’t have any way of measuring the return on investment, but we know the opportunity is there.”
The Wharf owner Gary Gillespie pulled up anchor and moved his restaurant barge to his property along the Kentucky River in Prestonville, Ky., after operating at the Madison riverfront for nearly three years. The wharf was beached on the riverbank there and is not open for business.
Meanwhile, Madison city officials almost immediately began advertising for bids in hopes of luring another group or business to operate boat docks in town. They sent city officials to look at dock operations in Jeffersonville and New Albany to try and get some ideas.

Mayor Al Huntington

Mayor
Al Huntington

In March 2005, the board received two proposals – one from partners L.D. Honeycutt and RE/MAX Group 1 broker Jim Pruett, and a second proposal from Rivercrest Marina owner Charlie Spillman. Although Huntington told a Board of Public Works & Safety meeting that the Honeycutt-Pruett proposal was more detailed, the city ultimately selected Spillman’s proposal.
No details were ever released about Spillman’s plan. Spillman apparently did not follow through with his proposal because in June the city withdrew its contract offer to him.
They went back to Honeycutt and Pruett asking if they were still interested, but Pruett said, “At that particular time, we were involved in other projects and could not commit to the planning time and getting the resources necessary to do it.”
Last fall, the city again advertised for bids for a boat dock operator, but so far, none has materialized, according to Huntington. He said Joey Helton of Milton, Ky., did come to City Hall and discuss with him the possibility of operating a boat dock, but he has not returned and Huntington did not know whether he would.
“I’ve not heard anything from Mr. Helton since our meeting,” he said.
Helton did not return several calls left for him.
Pruett, meanwhile, who is a boater, said he has spoken with Helton and has been encouraging him to pursue the plan. “Whether I’m involved or not, the city needs a boat dock near town for seasonal and transient boaters.”
The Pruett-Honeycutt proposal included a monthly flat rate remuneration to the city in exchange for a lease contract to operate the docks, Pruett said. The two men had traveled to Cincinnati and Louisville looking at barges for possible purchase. Honeycutt owns a fabricating shop in Bloomington, where he had planned on constructing the dock out of barges for Madison.

Jim Pruett

Jim Pruett

As for the idea of paying an operator to provide docks, rather than to insist on the city collecting a percentage of revenue, Huntington said he did not favor that option. “The riverfront property has value, and we expect to be paid for it.”
Honeycutt, who owns a marina in Bloomington, purchased some of the storage barns at Rivercrest Marina during the November 2002 bankruptcy auction. He had planned to use that property as his base of operating the boat docks in town. But he recently sold the property to Spillman, saying, “When our proposal was denied, I had no reason of keeping it any longer.”
Honeycutt, who is semi-retired, said he has built, operated and later sold a large marina operation on Patoka Lake and his daughter now manages his marina on Monroe Lake near Bloomington.
“With my experience in marinas, I never figured out why our proposal wasn’t selected,” Honeycutt said. “I thought we were a shoe-in.”
He said he had arranged to apply for up to $200,000 in state grant money from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to help fund his operation. “I’ve used that grant program three times before.”
Asked if he would consider submitting another proposal to the city, Honeycutt said he would have to think about it. “I’m not saying no, I just can’t answer right away.”

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