Casino boat sitting high-and-dry in Memphis after RDC dispute

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MEMPHIS, Tenn — A former Iowa casino boat is now sitting high-and-dry, literally, on a sandbar just outside downtown Memphis due to a dispute between its new owner and Memphis’ Riverfront Development Corporation.

The former Rhythm City Casino was moored at the foot of Main Street in Davenport, Iowa for more than 15 years before being sold to Memphis Riverboats Inc. in 2015, according to WQAD.

Pictures of the vessel, which looks even more worse-for-the-wear than it did when it steamed out of the Quad Cities in November, 2016, have been circulating on social media platforms, prompting questions about what happens next to the massive former gambling boat.

New owner William Lozier, whose family-owned Memphis Riverboats has offered tourist and dinner cruises on the Mississippi out of its downtown Memphis mooring spot for decades, originally wanted to use it to host weddings, proms and other events near its other boats on the Beale Street Landing.

However, the Riverfront Development Corporation there balked at the boat’s massive size (275-feet-long, five stories high), lack of windows and general aesthetic ugliness and denied it a permanent mooring permit.

Since that decision, the boat has been stashed on a sandy spit of land just downstream from the Memphis-Arkansas bridge and downtown Memphis.

The red X marks the spot where the former Rhythm City is located, downstream from the Memphis-Arkansas bridge.

Due to extreme low water conditions, the boat is not currently considered a hazard to navigation, according to a spokesperson for the United States Coast Guard Sector Lower Mississippi River, which handles inland navigation on that section of the Mississippi. However, the Coast Guard is closely monitoring the situation, she added.

“The boat owner provides reports to the Coast Guard on the vessel’s status and hull integrity every two weeks,” Lt. Rita Walter of the Coast Guard replied in answer to an emailed request. “The vessel is planned to be moved when water levels rise. If the vessel owner requests to use the boat in commercial service we would make a determination if it is a vessel or a craft routinely operated dockside, at which point, the Army Corps of Engineers could make a determination if it’s a permanently moored vessel.”

Overhead view of Rhythm City Casino boat, courtesy of USCG.

Meantime, Walter said, the Rhythm City’s current location does not interfere with navigation and is not used for commercial service requiring the Coast Guard to monitor it to ensure a hazardous condition does not arise.

Lozier did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the future of the boat or where it might be permanently moored if he continues to be denied access to Beale Street Landing.

Dorchelle Spence, vice president of the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation, said she does not know what Lozier’s future intentions for the boat entail.

“What his plan for the boat is, I don’t know,” she said. “It has not run aground. It’s just at very low water.”