Docking in Madison

Businessman wants
to build more dock space

City backs project that would
compete with Rivercrest

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind. (February 2004) – The Wharf Restaurant & Lounge owner Gary Gillespie is reserved yet hopeful about receiving a grant from the Indiana Department of Environmental Manage-ment, Office of Water Quality, that would allow him to build additional transient boat dockage on the Ohio River. Gillespie expects notification sometime this month, and if the grant is approved, he plans to begin construction immediately.

The Wharf

Photo by Don Ward

The Wharf restaurant in Madison.

The grant for which Gillespie applied falls under the federal government’s Boating Infrastructure Grant Program, or BIG P, as it is commonly called. Authorized by Congress in 1998, the program relies on funds from a federal excise tax on fishing equipment and motorboat fuels. Funds are awarded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and administered at the state level by the IDEM-OWQ.
BIG P provides funding specifically for construction of facilities that enhance boating for “nontrailerable” recreational boats, those 26 feet or greater in length that are considered to be in transient status (“passing through or by a place, staying 10 days or less”). Projects typically eligible for BIG P include: slips for transient boaters; mooring buoys; navigational aids limited specifically to direct entry to transient, nontrailerable tie up facilities; safe harbors for transients; and initial dredging only to provide transient vessels with safe channel depths, according to the IDEM.
Currently, Gillespie can accommodate up to 30 boats at his location on the river at 375 W. Vaughn Dr. If approved for the grant, he plans to build about 20 additional slips as well as restroom and shower facilities for boaters.
Gillespie said he has already taken construction bids from several local barge manufacturing companies. He estimated that construction would take two to three months. Ideally, the docks would be completed in time for the upcoming boating season, or at least prior to the Madison Regatta on July 3-4. “We have a lot of transients during that time,” he said.
Madison festivals, such as the Regatta, Ribberfest and Chautauqua, typically attract many recreational boaters to the riverfront. Ribberfest coordinator Kathy Ayers said she noticed during last year’s festival that many boats were pulled up where there wasn’t a dock.

Madison Ribberfest boats

Photo by Don Ward

Houseboats dock at the Madison Ribberfest.

"In our particular festival, we want to encourage people to come up on the yachts and the cabin cruisers, and to participate in the festival from the river,” said Ayers. “I think it would be more enticing if they could actually pull up to a dock.”
The Wharf’s dock is located close to Ribberfest’s Poplar Street gate and would provide a convenient location for those arriving by boat to enter the festival, said Ayers. She believes additional dock space would be beneficial. “Anything we can do to increase tourism in Madison is a good idea,” she added.
The Madison City Council agreed last year at its Sept. 2 meeting to support Gillespie’s grant application and presented a letter to that effect to the IDEM. “The city has been more than fair,” said Gillespie, who was grateful for the city’s backing.
“We think that it’s really important to our riverfront development and our tourism industry to have transient dockage located along Vaughn Drive,” Madison Mayor Al Huntington said in a January interview.
“Anything we can do to help any business become better, and at the same time to benefit the city of Madison, we’re going to be at the forefront of helping make that happen.”
Although supported by the city, Gillespie’s potential project has raised some concerns for Rivercrest Marina owner Charles Spillman. Spillman, who voiced his concerns at the City Council’s September meeting, argued that the city, which will lease to Gillespie the space for additional dockage, will be in competition with his marina by supporting the project.
“They’re simply going to take away business from us,” said Spillman, citing location as the Wharf’s advantage. Rivercrest Marina, located at 1200 W. Second St., is several blocks west of the Vaughn Drive festival area. It is served, however, by the Madison Trolley, which ferries boaters up to Main Street and other downtown locations.
According to Spillman, his marina dedicates about 70 percent of its space to transient boaters. The rest is leased for permanent dockage. “A lot of our business right now relates to transient (boaters),” said Spillman. He added that he doesn’t see the need for additional transient docking facilities in Madison. “We don’t fill up as it is,” he said.
Spillman was informed last September that the city would also endorse his application if he chose to submit one. “We were more than happy to submit a letter of support for transient dockage or other qualified expenditures that might be needed at his location,” said Huntington.

Gary Gillespie
Gary Gillespie

Huntington had provided information about BIG P to Spillman, who said he looked into the grant but found that it was too late to apply. The deadline for applications was Sept. 1, according to IDEM grant coordinator Julie Bye.
Although many projects fall under BIG P eligibility, the program is not well known in Indiana. By last year’s deadline, said Bye, only two business had applied, one of which was The Wharf. The other, New Plaza Yacht Club in Evansville, Ind., is also expected to receive the grant when the Fish & Wildlife Service officially releases the funds. Under BIG P are two levels: Tier 1, which comprises an annual maximum of $100,000 available to each applying state on a noncompetitive basis; and Tier 2, the remainder of annual funding ($8 million less whatever is awarded under Tier 1) that is available to applying states on a competitive basis.
If approved for funding, Gillespie will pay up front for construction cost and later will be reimbursed for 75 percent or up to $50,000 when the project is completed. Because most costs incurred prior to federal approval are not eligible for funding, IDEM recommends that construction not begin prior to official written notification. Bye said she hopes to notify Gillespie of final approval no later than March.

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