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August 13, 2013

Jeffersonville Steamboat Days to relaunch in conjunction with Belle’s 100th

Festival planned to celebrate Belle of Louisville's birthday next October

JEFFERSONVILLE — The Belle of Louisville will turn 100 years old next October. In celebration, seven other riverboats are expected to travel 10,000 nautical miles to join the Belle for her birthday that will include a five-day festival. Planning for the event — which will be reminiscent of Cincinnati’s defunct Tall Stacks riverboat heritage festival — is already well underway, but now, Southern Indiana is getting into the mix.

While the Belle will be the star of the party, organizers are working to resurrect Jeffersonville’s own former riverboat-themed celebration — Steamboat Days — in the process.

The Ogle Foundation, a local non-profit philanthropic organization, is working to get Southern Indiana residents, businesses and organizations involved and has agreed to match all donations received, up to $150,000. If the goal is reached, the total amount the Ogle Foundation and the donors will hand over to Louisville’s Waterfront Development Corp. — which is organizing the celebration — is $300,000.

Neville Blakemore, executive chairman of Great Northern Building Products, representing the Waterfront Development Corp., said the total fundraising goal to put on the event is $1.5 million. Organizers have already managed to collect more than $750,000.

Blakemore said while the celebration is based around the Belle, it’s also a chance to celebrate the entire region’s history.

“It’s a chance to recognize we are a river city, we are a river region,” he said.

And Kent Lanum, executive director of the Ogle Foundation, said he wanted to get Hoosiers involved.

“Even though Ogle [Foundation] doesn’t normally fund these kind of events, this is a one-time deal with the Belle of Louisville,” he said. “It was a good way to show and encourage regionalism and partnership.”

Lanum said he hopes to make the dollar-for-dollar match from money put up by Indiana residents.

“That’s going to be from purely southern Indiana residents, organizations, individuals, whomever,” he said. “The Ogle Foundation would love to see that grass roots support from this side of the river.”

To encourage grass roots support, the donations have also been limited to a $50,000 per entity. While most individuals won’t be able to pony up $50,000 for the riverboat celebration, the purpose behind it was to encourage a wide range of support. Louisville is projecting an estimated $6 million economic impact from the event.

In addition to a celebration, the purpose of the five-day festival is to provide an educational component, especially for school-aged children, and to be able to create an organization for the preservation of the Belle of Louisville.

Blakemore explained that the city of Louisville puts about $300,000 annually into the boat, and organizers are hoping to form a non-profit group to raise money to maintain the Belle into the future.

The 99-year-old riverboat is a symbol of the region’s history and is one of the oldest functioning steamboats left in the world.

“The Belle unites us,” Blakemore said. “Everybody loves the Belle of Louisville. People [also] take the Belle for granted. The average life of a steamboat was three to five years.”

Along with celebrating a piece of the region’s history, the event is designed to highlight the revitalization of its riverfronts.

During the steamboat festival, the American Queen will anchor on the Indiana side. And Jeffersonville has one more event planned for that weekend.

“This happens to be coinciding with Steamboat Days,” Lanum said.

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Shelbe Dorman, right, and Taylor Wirth hug following their 2013 commencement ceremony at New Albany High School.

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