I never heard back from the Kalakala team, and the Net's been quiet. Today I got curious and went over to kalakala.org, where I discovered a brand new press release. The owners, who, for a while, have been going under the moniker of the ferry's old operator, "Black Ball Line," have signed with Select Contracts, an international company that advertises its "turnkey" approach, which basically means that they oversee planning, design, implementation, and operation, all under one budgetary umbrella. This press release gave me a little flutter of hope: Might there actually be a plan to save the boat? As I dug further, however, the proposal became about as murky as the waters of the Hylebos Waterway.
The nuts and bolts of the proposal are daunting enough. Phase One, with a budget of $1 million, seeks simply to tow the Kalakala to safe moorage within a year. Phase Two, with a budget of $48.5 million, would refurbish the boat with new hull and engines, restoring it to full functionality. There is no guarantee of any of this money. The press release indirectly acknowledges this, stating that "our Phase I budget of $1.0 million and tasks are to make others believe rather than be daunted by the Phase II $48.5 million budget." The release puts a lot of faith in the boat's Federal status as a protected Historic Site as a source of money. In addition to signing with Select Contracts, the Kalakala crew have also joined with Gordon, Thomas, and Honeywell for "governmental affairs." According to the release, the Kalakala's landmark status is "expected to stimulate relevant conversations over the next 2-4 month period." As much as I want to believe in the future of the vessel, I would not hold my breath. Our economy, and, consequently, our government, is still not in a place where grant money is readily available.
One thing that is very clear in the release is that Black Ball Line has pretty much given up on Washington State as the home of the Kalakala. "She once belonged to Seattle, but we feel San Francisco, California, and New York Inland waterways and markets will become our final business plan of preference." I hate to see her go, but this is logical. It has already been proven that people in the Puget Sound area can't or won't step up to save the boat. Both New York and San Francisco are real urban centers that have real networks for both historical and maritime preservation. It is also significant that the Kalakala will be marketed as "the World's Only Streamline Art Deco Vessel." In other words, Rodrigues and company have abandoned appealing to the Kalakala's place in Northwest history and will instead appeal to its place in maritime design. This would further make San Francisco or New York sensible homes.
In fact, the Kalakala's future may rest on its marketability in entertainment. Very early in the press release, it is written that "she will no longer be used as a ferry, but will be designed for best uses for visitor tours, entertainment, special events, dining, catered events, theatre, hospitality suites, cafe, gift shop, bar & restaurant, daily dinner and evening sailings as well as other shore side attractions." Elsewhere in the release, the Kalakala is referred to as "tourist attraction asset" and a "world class entertainment vessel." This is why they brought in Select Contracts. A look at their website reveals that the company is known for its "leisure & entertainment" projects like hotels, theme parks, and clubs. Their own press release on the Kalakala is wedged between press releases for a "Baseball Theme Park" in the Dominican Republic and and resort on the Dead Sea. They talk about a "maritime homeport" and a "Kalakala resort" with "Art Deco themed apartment buildings" and boutique retail shops. Their press release is also dated from October 2009, at which point, Port Angeles, Washington, was still the assumed location. Wait a sec...does this mean that the 'new' press release isn't new at all? Does it mean that Black Ball Line and Select Contracts actually have a plan and a budget now? Or does it mean that the 'plan' is not and was never a real plan?
Let's review. The owners of the Kalakala have announced that they have a new arrangement with a company that they already had an arrangement with. They have no actual funding and are counting on the Federal government, which is struggling with a gargantuan deficit and has no ability to fund. The Kalakala may leave Washington, and, if it does, would be turned into an entertainment destination. Kalakala: the next Queen Mary?
Yet, somehow, this makes sense. Steve Rodrigues may actually have started something that will save the boat. He is absolutely correct that the Kalakala's only hope would be far, far away (I didn't mean for that to be a double Star Wars reference. Sorry). The Kalakala, with its floating ballroom, was an entertainment destination. Why not play up its Art Deco beauty? The Queen Mary survived, so why not the Kalakala? Is it not a worthy idea for the Kalakala to be a tourist attraction rubbing shoulders with the Cliff House or the Chrysler Building? The problem remains the odds. Maybe it's not salvation, but it's a vision...and it could actually work. And there, as always, is the rub. Let's get to work making it happen, not envisioning it happening.
And so they have also put out an open call to help clean the boat June 10th and 11th. We'll be there!