Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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April 24, 2014

City to seek proposals for floating restaurant

ASHLAND — The Ashland Board of City Commissioners on Thursday voted to advertise for proposals to locate a floating restaurant on the city’s riverfront.

And, if all goes as planned, a new eatery could be docked on the Ohio River at the Port of Ashland and in operation before the end of summer.

“It’s going to be a push to get that done, but that’s our goal,” said Chris Pullem, the city’s economic developer, who developed the request for proposals in conjunction with Mayor Chuck Charles and the commission and several other city department heads.

According to Pullem, the original concept drawings for the riverfront development included a restaurant. But, as the development plans were refined, the restaurant was lost, he said.

During the past several years, officials have had numerous discussions on ways to enhance the riverfront, and having a floating eatery and a marina there have been the two ideas that have consistently been mentioned, Pullem said.

The city already has spent about $200,000 on infrastructure improvements at the riverfront park, including additional parking spaces on the bottom tier to support a restaurant, “so we already have considerable skin in the game,” Pullem said.

Also, according to Pullem, City Engineer Ryan Eastwood has developed a mooring system that would allow a floating restaurant to operate even when the river levels are at their highest points.

Pullem didn’t want to say whether officials were already eyeing potential candidates to locate a boat-based eatery here. But, based on what the city has to offer, he said he expected to receive some “good responses” to the request for proposal.

Charles said he was extremely excited about the prospect of a floating restaurant locating here.

“I think this could be the project that ties our downtown to the riverport,” he said. “It’s been a priority of mine ever since I became mayor.”

In February of last year, the city revealed it was in discussions to bring the Star of Louisville to the Port of Ashland. The commission authorized then-City Manager Steve Corbitt to engage in further negotiations with the developers. However, commissioners noted the board’s action didn’t bind Corbitt to negotiating only with the owner of that vessel.

Commissioner Cheryl Spriggs said at the time she’d been told by Corbitt a floating eatery would pump an estimated $157,000 a year in revenue into the city’s coffers in the form of docking fees and city taxes and would create about 60 new jobs.

Asked whether the city’s decision to seek proposals meant a potential deal with the Star of Louisville was dead, Pullem said it didn’t.

“Because (the riverport) is city property, the city has to follow procurement code,” he said. “We need to open it to everyone who might be interested in locating there.”

Pullem said a committee will review the proposals and recommend what it believes to be the best candidate to the commission, which will have the option of accepting or rejecting the committee’s choice.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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