Lack of tourists could mean auction block instead of dock for Duluth's Sundew
If you're in the market for a retired Coast Guard buoytender, this could be your lucky hour. The Coast Guard Cutter Sundew soon could go up for auction. The vessel's current owner, the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, has quietly been shop...
If you're in the market for a retired Coast Guard buoytender, this could be your lucky hour.
The Coast Guard Cutter Sundew soon could go up for auction.
The vessel's current owner, the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, has quietly been shopping the Sundew around in recent weeks.
During an interview Thursday, Bob Hom, the DECC's operations director, confirmed that he has been assigned the admittedly sad task of determining whether there's a potential market for the 180-foot-long ship.
The Sundew has deep local roots. It was born of a Duluth shipyard in 1944 and served the Twin Ports until its decommissioning in 2004. The ship subsequently was donated to the DECC for use as a local floating museum.
However, Hom said the Sundew has proven less of a tourist draw than he hoped. The DECC initially tried charging visitors individual admission to the Sundew but decided to package it with the more popular William A. Irvin, a retired laker, because of sparse ticket sales.
Even though people who pay for admission to the Irvin now can tour the Sundew for no additional fee, Hom said only about 5 percent of visitors have set foot aboard the retired cutter in recent years.
Meanwhile, the DECC's 5-year lease of the dock where the Sundew is moored will expire April 30, 2009. The DECC's board of directors will need to decide whether it makes sense to renew that lease in light of poor traffic through the floating exhibit. Hom said the DECC pays about $13,000 per year in docking fees for the vessel and also incurs maintenance costs which make owning the Sundew a money-losing proposition.
Hom said he will recommend putting the cutter up for auction only if he has good reason to hope it will garner bids of $150,000 or more. He described the 64-year-old ship as being in excellent condition. What's more, the Sundew's fuel tanks are filled with 24,000 gallons of diesel, which could add to its value, assuming the fuel still is usable.
Hom has had contact with a few potential local buyers.
"We would like to keep it in our harbor if we possibly can," he said.
The DECC was required to operate the Sundew as an exhibit for at least four years following the vessel's donation. It fulfilled that obligation on May 27, 2008.
Hom expects to offer a recommendation to the DECC's board members at its Oct. 28 meeting. It will be up to them to determine whether the cutter should go on the auction block.
Capt. Franz Von Riedel, owner of Zenith Tugboat Co. of Superior, suspects the Sundew will face a tough sell.
"It's such a specialized and unusual vessel that it's hard to find an aftermarket use for it," he said. "It's good for buoy tending and icebreaking, but there's little else you can do with it. It's so slow and big."
Von Riedel should know. He bought the Spar, a retired Coast Guard buoytender of the same class, several years ago from a scrapper on the East Coast for $50,000.
After getting the vessel in good working order, Von Riedel placed it on the market but had no takers. He eventually wound up selling the cutter's engines and coolers for more than he had paid for the entire ship. Von Riedel then stripped and cleaned the hull before the Spar was sunk off the coast of Wilmington, N.C., for use as marine habitat and a diving attraction.
He added that scrapping a vessel on the Great Lakes probably would be far more difficult because of the lack of facilities doing such work. And sinking the hull probably would not be an option.
There's also the potential public fallout to consider.
"I'm sure a lot of people would be upset if someone were to part out the Sundew like that," Von Riedel said.
Hom cautioned against overreaction to the DECC's exploratory activities. "I don't want to get everyone up in arms and ready to start a 'Save the Sundew' campaign."
"It's not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination," Hom said. "If we can't get a minimum of $150,000, the DECC is not going to put the Sundew up for sale."
PETER PASSI covers business and development. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 279-5526 or by e-mail at email@example.com .