In Depth with Brad Byrd

In-Depth with Brad Byrd: Chris Donahue talks LST

Moving the LST 325 has been talked about for years, but it could finally become a reality. Evansville's City Council is scheduled to vote on moving the LST to the downtown Tropicana Riverfront plaza. Brad Byrd was joined by LST 325 board member Chris Donahue to talk about the future of the ship.



Brad - Welcome to In-Depth. Tonight a question: Will LST 325 soon weigh anchor and find a new home dock in Downtown Evansville? The question may be settled next Monday when City Council considers a close to $3 million allocation to assist the great World War 2 landing ship to make the move. But much needs to be done after that.


Tonight I'm joined by Chris Donahue who has been a member of the LST Board since the ship arrived in Evansville in 2000...


Chris Donahue - Yeah, 13 years ago.


Brad - 13 years. Alright. 


First off, you have the solid support of Evansville Mayor, Lloyd Winnecke. He's going to be speaking on behalf of this effort.


Chris - Yes. He's our largest advocate. Yes. That's safe to say.


Brad - Now let's talk about City Council. That may be a different story. How do you see the vote shaping up? We have talked... we have talked to some council members who say they really need to take a second look at this. Your response?


Chris - I understand the need to do due diligence. And you may know more than I do about that. The only... one person who spoke out, I learned on your show, was Dr. H. Dan Adams. He's all for it. And I haven't heard anything other than... I haven't heard anything negative other than that a few of them seem to think this needs to be discussed and do due diligence. And so, we understand that. 


Brad - Exactly that $2.7 allocation, what, what would that exactly pay for? 


Chris - Uh..


Brad - And where is it coming from?


Chris - It's coming, as I understand it, it's coming from the Riverboat fund. It would be transferred to a Port Authority fund, which would be used to cover the whole project. The scope of the project, we are talking about building a new building that's down there, more the right rent district as opposed to where we are at now. And a lot... you're, you're talking about two barges, which would be...  There would be two barges, not as big as what you see now at the ship. We would be tied up on the opposite side of them from the shore. We just need a working surface that goes up and down with the ship.


Brad - And the bow of the ship would be facing northeast.


Chris - Yes. Uh, huh. It would be facing up river. You want to do that to keep the wood and all of the garbage out of the river out of your props.


Brad - And we saw a picture of that welcome center. That said, where LST is currently located, if history serves me correctly, the numbers initially were very, very impressive. This was something new in Evansville. We know how the novelty of things can, for some folks, wear off. Numbers then started to decline. Where do you stand right now with that location?


Chris - We're doing about 12,000 people per year in Evansville, something like that. It's kind of leveled off. We don't quite break even in Evansville, with Evansville attendance. But we've come close. But it's that trip we take yearly, which is coming up here, August 16th. It's going up to Dubuque, Iowa this year. Last year it was Nashville, down that way. So that is the trip that puts us over into the black. That's what keeps us solvent. And, uh, if we're able to move to Tropicana, uh, we reckon at a bare minimum we can, you know, close to double our attendance and hopefully even more than that.


Brad - And who will these people be? If you double the attendance, who are you talking about?


Chris - Everybody. Well, right off the bat, what we're not getting as many as we should have is reunions, military reunions. We get a lot of inquiries but down there we would have the hotels right there, the venues like the restaurants, the casino. And uh, just people walking by, running by. I've been down there over the last year, working on projects with different people and, you  know, there's two cars per second driving by. We were just out there Friday working. Uh, there's people running, there's people walking, pushing baby strollers. And people that'll see this ship that don't have any idea that it's two miles down the road there.


Brad - And what about young people? I know kids, students in school... I can certainly understand the school districts only have so much time in the day but would you like to see more field trips if that's possible?

Chris - Yes, a lot more. With EVSC I think part of the problem is they're more structured. We'll see more of the students from out in the smaller towns. In EVSC, you got a block off. I don't know if it's two or three hours. To get a bus and do that, it's more of a project. It's more regimen here in the city so we don't see a lot of that. It's something we'd like to see improve.

Brad - The locals in town's a reality I guess with any attraction that is local is that people may come on board and they're very impressed with the ship. They say to themselves, "Okay, been there, done that." Does that change that at all?

Chris - Yea, that's something we've learned over the last 13 years. You have to have something changing in there. So in our tank deck, on a quarterly basis, every half year, something gets changed down there. You know, I'm a tour guide, too. That's what I like doing the most. I'll go down there and I'll see something totally different after about three or four weeks.

Brad - Why is this so important, Chris, as far as the history of this city to keep this remanent?

Chris - Well, number one as I've mentioned numerous times on here, there only one left. D-Day, the 75th anniversary of D-Day is coming up next year. That's a whole other thing we're planning on a nationwide scope event here. There's was 229 LSTs at the Normandy invasion. Twenty-five of those from around here in Evansville. That's pretty cool to say. And there's only one left sailing in the world.

Brad - You tell me you plan to have a lot of people on the third floor of the Civic Center on Monday.

Chris - Yes. I'm asking everybody to come down on 5:30 PM on Monday, August 13th, room 301. The room holds about 80, but I'd like to see the hallway full. You can watch it on your phones, or your appliances, and then they pipe it out into the hallway. Numbers talk is the bottom line and four years ago we had a lot of people signing a petition. Thousands of them. I would ask that those people would come out again and show up on Monday. This is our D-Day. This is a culmination of 6 years. 

Brad - If council decides to table this for the time being, what's your next step?

Chris - We have a home right now. We're not homeless. We'll be were we're at. I'll get with the mayor and say, "Okay, what's next?" Next year's a new fiscal year, so we haven't really discussed that much because it wasn't critical that we have that cause we can go on as we are for now. But what's critical, that we get a new business plan and we've got a basic business plan because we know if this happens, we need to hit the ground running.

Brad - Well Eyewitness News will be at that meeting next Monday evening. I guess the first real major test for this move for LST 325.

Chris - If I could add one thing, which is important and I think the folks need to know is that the LST has put in $175,000 of their own money. A matching grant with the visitors bureau. They've matched up to $175,000. So, there's $350,000 of it. That's important for everybody to know because you know, we're not made of money but we also want to invest in the city who's been so good to us. 

Brad - In closing here, head to my Brad Byrd Facebook page and tell us what do you think. Do you feel the LST should be moved to Dress Plaza? And is it worth the $2.7 million investment? You can head right over to the visitor posts. Let us here from you and we appreciate it. Chris, thank you so much for being here.

Chris - Thank you, Brad.


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(This story was originally published August 7, 2018)

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