Riverboat restaurant sinking into Brazos River

December 24, 2007 4:41:18 AM PST
A riverboat restaurant that was damaged during spring flooding is sinking into the Brazos River, and the city has asked the owner to remove the boat by the end of the week. The bow of the 160-foot Brazos Belle first dipped below the surface of Lake Brazos in late November. The city has canceled the lease for the riverboat, which is docked on city property near Interstate 35.

City officials say Brazos Leisure Inc. failed to pay rent or all its taxes, didn't provide required insurance and didn't correct health issues raised after the spring floods. The restaurant shut down in August.

"It will have to be removed," said John Patterson, acting city attorney. "And if it has to be removed in pieces, it will be removed in pieces."

Patterson said the city might have to pay for the boat's removal if it's abandoned.

"But I don't want to give any opinions on the matter until we have looked at all our options," Patterson said. "This is not a run-of-the-mill situation, to say the least."

Tony Cain, who is listed as the registered agent for Brazos Leisure Inc., has said flood damage stopped his business. He spent $105,000 on repairs but ran out of money because he couldn't generate income with the restaurant, he said.

In late November, Cain said he was no longer responsible for the boat and had handed it back over to F.M. Young, who built the boat for $1 million and has docked it on Lake Brazos since 1997. Cain couldn't be reached for comment in recent days.

Young said he sold the boat in May 2006 to Cain in his capacity as president of Brazos Leisure Inc. Young, 77, said the boat is salvageable, but he doesn't have the energy for the project.

"Flotation devices could raise it, and then you could pump it out," he said. "But I just can't do it, and I'm disappointed as I can be that this happened. It could be an even bigger attraction than it was."

Chris McGowan, director of urban development for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said revitalizing the Belle would benefit the downtown area.

In the meantime, the view from Interstate 35 of a half-sunken riverboat "is certainly not the most attractive thing I can think of."

The city in November dedicated a new $20 million dam for Lake Brazos with hopes of maintaining a constant water level.