Early Plans Call for Party Barge on St. Louis River

Aerial view of the U.S. Steel Superfund site in Morgan Park, along the St. Louis River. (file / News Tribune)
By Brooks Johnson, Duluth News Tribune

“It’s going to be fun,” Steve Christen said in a deep bass voice that was assertive in its excitement. “Everything about this project is fun.”

He was talking about Your Huckleberry, a party barge he wants to build and float on the St. Louis River to bring good times to paying visitors and western neighborhood residents.

“I make it my job to make sure things get lively out there again,” said the 69-year-old lifelong Duluthian. “Let’s let the fun begin then, let’s get people excited.”

Plans call for a 30-foot-wide, 60-foot-long double-decker barge with an aquarium for a bar, pool tables and a rooftop deck floating on hundreds of plastic barrels. Christen said that while party barge businesses are more commonly seen on the Mississippi River, Your Huckleberry will dwarf them all.

“I’m looking to spend $60,000 down the line,” he said. “It’s well spent because it’s worth a million bucks.”

Those plans will need to be OK’d by the U.S. Coast Guard before they hit the water.

“Approvals are required for all passenger vessels such as that, including construction standards,” said Lt. John Mack, chief of Waterways Management.

As of now nothing has been submitted to the USCG, Mack said. Yet Christen said he’s already getting materials together and getting started on framing.

“I’m quite capable of going through the rigamarole,” he said. “This thing will still be in the water 50, 60 years from now and hasn’t aged because of the way I’ve designed it.”

Beyond business and liquor licensing, the city doesn’t have much jurisdiction over waterborne business, though Your Huckleberry will need a place to dock if she ever sails, and that could dictate where or whether the party barge can operate.

Christen is angling to anchor somewhere around the U.S. Steel site, though that’s tied up in a lengthy cleanup and is still owned by the company. The focus is on the west side of town, he said.

It’s certainly not something the city has seen before, but that doesn’t necessarily bar it from becoming reality.

“It’s a cool idea; it seems like it would be a really neat amenity for our city,” said Adam Fulton, community planning manager for the city of Duluth. “As with any idea, number one we’re interested to hear it. Number two, I think we recognize the city has a strong tourism component, and entertainment activities are a strong part of that. The devil’s in the the details.”

If those details get sorted out, Christen hopes Your Huckleberry will be well-known across the country. And while it might take longer than the carpenter cares to wait, he’s confident it will.