River cruise line picks Gretna for home port

Posted on: June 24 2016

By Katherine Sayre, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

New cruise company French America Line has picked Gretna's ferry landing as the homeport for its 150-passenger riverboat Louisiane under a deal that steers money toward restoring ferry service between Gretna and New Orleans.

French America Line will also put its corporate headquarters on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. The company's move will create 94 jobs with a $7.5 million investment. Company representatives and officials with Jefferson Parish, the state, and the Regional Transit Authority announced the deal Friday (June 24) in Gretna.

"This project will allow us to put Gretna at the forefront for opportunities of tourism, downtown development -- but most of all, solidifying a funding source dedicated to water transit for the city of Gretna," said Gretna Mayor Belinda Constant.

The Louisiane will arrive in mid-July at the Gretna ferry landing, which has been used sparingly since regular ferry service between Gretna and the Canal Street terminal ended in 2013.

A $50 per-passenger fee on the Louisiane will be steered into a City of Gretna fund for operating expenses at the ferry terminal and to reimburse the city for improvements to the facility, said Justin Augustine, vice president of Transdev, the Regional Transit Authority's private operator. Remaining funds will be saved for one day restoring ferry service between Gretna and the Canal Street landing in New Orleans, which ended in 2013.

The prospect of bringing back the ferry depends on how successful French America is at bringing in passengers. French America Line plans to offer five- to 10-day cruises on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Red rivers. The first sailings are scheduled to begin in August.

The company's founder Christopher Kyte said French America has committed to hiring and buying supplies locally. "I believe we will have a huge impact in the local area," Kyte said.

Formerly the Columbia Queen that sailed Oregon's Columbia River, French America Line purchased the Louisiane in 2015. The riverboat is currently en route from Oregon to Gretna via the Panama Canal on a journey that will take four weeks.Once in Jefferson Parish, the Louisiane will be refurbished by Bollinger Quick Repair in Harvey.

The company got a $4.9 million loan to renovate the vessel and start service through a U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development business and industry program. The Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission provided financing to cover some of the costs of relocating the vessel.

According to the company, 64 jobs will be created aboard the Louisiane and 30 will be added on shore. The cruise line will have an estimated annual payroll of $2.1 million, which will include a mix of seasonal, hourly wage and permanent salaried employees.

The Louisiane features 75 suites and staterooms, two restaurants, three lounges, a full-service spa and nightly entertainment.

French America Line began operations out of JEDCO's Business Innovation Center in the Churchill Technology & Business Park earlier this year. Reservations, sales, and marketing for Louisiane cruises will be handled by Uncommon Journeys, an affiliate of French America Line. The two will share office space at Churchill as the business is being started.