ST. ELMO — A preliminary feasibility study by an independent consultant is pointing to St. Elmo as the best spot for a proposed historic riverboat project to locate.

The consultant hired by Dave and Peggy Campbell to explore the best site to convert the President riverboat into a hotel and convention center complex told members of the St. Elmo City Council Friday that the city appears to be the best location for the project.

Consultant Greg Hanis said that after doing a close study of possible area locations, St. Elmo appeared to be the most viable because of the Interstate 70 interchange and the city’s ability to have future development around the interstate.

“In my opinion, St. Elmo probably offers the best advantage for the boat at this time,” Hanis said.

City council members met with Dave Campbell while on conference call to Hanis Friday and discussed what the city had to offer for the project and what needed to be done before Campbell could give St. Elmo a firm commitment the riverboat would locate there.

Plans for what exactly the riverboat project will entail will depend on where the boat locates, but Campbell said he plans to turn it into a hotel and convention center possibly modeled to the 1940’s-era.

If it goes to St. Elmo, the riverboat would likely be located at Tower Lake near the interstate, with the boat either sitting along the edge of Tower Lake or on the lake with a permanent foundation under it. The President riverboat, which the Campbells bought last year, will not ever be used in its boating capacity again and if it is placed on Tower Lake for the project, it needs to have a foundation, Campbell said.

The test of whether the project will have a permanent home in St. Elmo now depends on whether engineers determine that it would be structurally sound if placed on Tower Lake, Hanis said.

Market research has shown that St. Elmo would have the most advantages for the boat, but Hanis said Campbell must first know that it is logistically feasible for the boat to be on Tower Lake before committing fully to St. Elmo.

St. Elmo city council members have been working in past months on incentives they could offer the Campbells to bring the riverboat to the city because of the economic development benefits it will bring along with it.

Were Campbell to choose St. Elmo for the riverboat site, the city council has said they will do such improvements as streetscaping, landscaping, lighting and creating a walking path. The council also has purchased some land options around the lake for the project.

The city council will look for grant funding for some of these improvement projects, said alderman Jayson Porter.

Hanis asked the council members to consider putting a clause in the zoning ordinance that gives the council some control of what new businesses may go in near the riverboat once it is developed. The clause could require new development near the riverboat to comply with its theme and to not allow competing hotels in the riverboat area for a few years.

The Campbells originally had a list of area towns it was considering for the President project, but most recently narrowed that list down to St. Elmo and Newton.

Amber Williams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 135 or awilliams@effinghamdailynews.com

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