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Gambling ship fees paid to St. Petersburg

The city receives $381,000 in nonrefundable payments for a ship expected to arrive in February.

By CARRIE JOHNSON
Published July 23, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG - After months of delays, owners of a 450-foot gambling ship paid more than $300,000 and signed a lease Tuesday to dock the Ocean Jewel of St. Petersburg at the city's port.

"We realize that we had some bumps in the beginning," Mayor Rick Baker said. "But we want the community to feel confident that we're moving forward and the city is protected."

Baker said the cruise line fulfilled all the obligations necessary to execute the lease, including showing proof of ownership of the Polish ferry once known as the Ocean Empress.

The ship, now in the United Arab Emirates for retrofitting, is repainted, its new name on its hull. The launch of a gambling ship from the port of St. Petersburg was announced to great fanfare in December. Baker expressed his support of the venture, saying it would erase the $150,000 annual subsidy the port now costs taxpayers and attract hundreds of tourists to the city's downtown.

But the original owners quickly ran into financial difficulties. They pulled out of the project in March, about when the daily cruises were to begin.

New investors in Illinois took over the operation and established an office in St. Petersburg.

Robert Schenk, Titan's executive vice president, said the ship is now expected to arrive in St. Petersburg in February. The first cruise is scheduled for the following month, March 21, a full year after operations were originally expected to start.

The cruise line will eventually employ between 300 and 400 people. The company's new human resources director, Paula Patterson, will start work Monday, Schenk said.

The seven-story ship will include a nightclub, several restaurants and a private room for parties. The main floor will be dominated by a giant casino with slot machines installed on an upper deck.

Titan officials handed the city three nonrefundable checks Tuesday: a $108,000 deposit; a full year's dockage fees, which is also $108,000; and $165,000 to match a Florida Department of Transportation grant for improvements to the port.

Once cruises begin, Titan will pay the city $2 per passenger in addition to the dockage fees. According to the agreement signed Tuesday, the cruise line must start service no later than June 2004.

Said Baker: "To me, the fact they delivered to us three checks totaling $381,000 is a very strong statement of their commitment to St. Petersburg and this venture."

- Carrie Johnson can be reached at 727 892-2273 or cjohnson@sptimes.com

[Last modified July 23, 2003, 01:18:16]


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