City-parish officials and the Downtown Development District are exploring several options to accommodate Viking River Cruises vessels that will begin stopping in Baton Rouge in the fall of 2020.
Though it’s still more than a year away, DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer says it will take that long to prepare a space for the popular river cruisers, which will bring several hundred additional tourists per year to the downtown riverfront.
Currently, several locations are under consideration, including the existing City Dock, the two docks currently occupied by the two downtown riverboat casinos and a fourth location further downriver.
Rhorer says the existing dock is a prime location, but it would need to be expanded, as it already accommodates several paddlewheelers that regularly stop in Baton Rouge.
The docks home to the Belle of Baton Rouge and the Hollywood Casino are also attractive options. However, one of the floating casinos would first have to take advantage of a new state law that allows riverboat casinos to move onshore—and it’s not clear that will happen.
In order to move on land, the law requires casino companies to make a “significant investment” that state gaming officials have suggested should be as much as $100 million or more. In a conference call with investors late last year, the new owners of the Belle indicated they were not interested in making that kind of investment or expanding in the local market, which has seen a steady decline in gambling revenues over the past 15 months.
Rhorer has had some preliminary talks with casino representatives and says they have indicated a willingness to reconsider an expansion in the market. Still, a lot of pieces would have to fall into place before the casino company would even begin to expand the Belle, much less be ready to cede its dock space to Viking River Cruises.
In the meantime, Rhorer is eyeing other possible locations, though he believes something in the heart of downtown is optimal.
“They have said they are coming in 2020,” he says. “So we will find something. We will be ready.”