By Suzy Kridner
NEW SMYRNA BEACH - Local businessman Wayne Heller is finally appearing on the New Smyrna Beach City Commission agenda. He's been asked to answer questions about his Delta Queen steamboat project.
For the Sept. 11 meeting, Mr. Heller, owner of the Riverview Hotel and Spa, has been given 30 minutes to answer questions asked by city staff about his plan to dock the historic steamboat on the North Causeway.
Another 30 minutes have been allocated for follow up questions from the commissioners.
Mr. Heller said he has been working on the Delta Queen project for more than two years and is in negotiations to buy the boat and move it here from Chattanooga, Tenn., where it is a floating 88-room hotel and tourist attraction. Mr. Heller plans to refurbish the boat and feature it here as a hotel and tourist attraction.
While Mr. Heller has spoken at several recent commission meetings, he only had three minutes during the public comment phase to talk about his proposal to buy the steamboat.
"I am looking forward to answering their questions," Mr. Heller said recently.
At the Aug. 18 commission meeting when the correspondence to Mr. Heller was approved, City Commissioner James Hathaway suggested someone should go to Chattanooga to see the Delta Queen.
"That's not a bad idea," said Commissioner Judy Reiker.
City Manager Pam Brangaccio said both commissioners and city staff would benefit from seeing the actual boat moored in downtown Chattanooga.
"I thought it was a good idea for the commissioners to visit the Delta Queen in Chattanooga," Mr. Heller said. They could get a better idea of how it sits in the water and how the gangway is used.
Among the many questions sent to Mr. Heller was whether the conference facilities, restaurant and bar would be open to the public.
"I would never think of keeping this historic treasure closed to the public," Mr. Heller said. "It never crossed my mind."
"I would encourage people to come on board, spend some time and learn about the boat's history," he said. "We need to bring history to New Smyrna Beach. Where's our history?"
As the owner of Spring Garden Ranch in DeLeon Springs, Mr. Heller said he is well versed in working with various state agencies.
"Each agency and the state have a process and you have to deal with them one-by-one," he said.
For the Delta Queen, he has already started talks with some of the agencies involved.
"We really appreciate the fact that the City Commission has given us an opportunity to answer their questions," Mr. Heller said. "The answers will provide a lot of insight into our plans."
"We intend to look at every question and give very thoughtful and considerate responses," he said.
"A lot of money and effort has already gone into this project," he said.
He also has plans to turn into New Smyrna Beach the former Administrative Office Building on the site he hopes to lease from the city.
At least 100 employees will be hired to work on the Delta Queen and at the spa, Mr. Heller said.