A few years ago during the recession, city officials cut a special deal with an Old Sacramento river cruise company to help keep it afloat.
Now that times are better, officials say it’s time Hornblower Cruises & Events meets the terms of its waterfront deal – most notably by bringing some type of “historic” cruise vessel to town for commercial use on the Sacramento River.
The city’s cultural services chief said it could be a paddleboat or a steam-driven vessel, it just has to be in the water by April 1 and doing commercial business by May 1.
“The recession is over, business is picking up, it’s time for them to get going on it,” said Jody Ulich, the city’s director of convention and cultural services. “It was great the city was able to help them out. Now, they need to become a better partner.”
City documents show Sacramento issued Hornblower a notice of default last year for failure to operate a historic vessel. The cruise company now operates a modern boat called Capitol Hornblower in Old Sacramento.
Hornblower officials could not be reached Monday. Hornblower has been in business 36 years and operates cruises in eight cities, including San Francisco, Berkeley, San Diego and New York.
Hornblower first signed a concession agreement with the city for river cruises in 2009, but told the city in 2013 it planned to opt out of the contract because it was losing business, according to a city report. City officials said they reduced Hornblower’s monthly fees and suspended their request for a historic vessel, figuring it was better to keep the business afloat than to lose it.
The city is upping the company’s mooring fees until it gets the boat here. If the firm fails to meet the spring deadlines, the city has the right to terminate its concession arrangement and sign up another cruise company, according to the rewritten agreement, which has been signed by both the city and Hornblower.
The City Council will be asked to approve the amended agreement at its Tuesday evening meeting.
Ulich said Hornblower doesn’t have to come up with a Gold Rush or post-rush-era vessel, just something that would fit Old Sacramento. The historic district has its roots in the Gold Rush, but its historic structures range across many decades.
“Coming to Old Sac is really an authentic historic experience,” Ulich said. “A lot of the buildings there, they are the real buildings. The history is very much alive down there.”
From the Tower Bridge to the south, past the Old Sacramento waterfront and well-scrubbed downtown buildings beyond, up past the I Street Bridge and cloud-capped open spaces to the north, the scenery is striking as the Sacramento River flexes its c