Woodlands Waterway Cruisers are headed to Florida
The Waterway Cruisers in The Woodlands are officially on the way to their new home, as a Florida company was working to remove the popular — but not operating — boats out of the water on Tuesday with plans to relocate them to a new home in Pompano Beach, Florida.
Nick Wolda, president of Visit The Woodlands — also known as the Convention and Visitors Bureau — said as of 1 p.m. Tuesday, two of the six cruisers had been removed from The Woodlands Waterway and he expects the remaining four boats to have been removed by the end of the day. The boats — which were given to The Woodlands CVB for free in 2011 — were donated for free to MGS III Consulting of Pompano Beach, Florida.
“We’re are loading up board number two now and we’ve got four more to go,” Wolda said in a telephone interview from the waterway docks. “We are taking them all out today and they are going to Pompano Beach, Florida. We are giving the boats away for free. We never paid to buy them.”
The boats have had a long and controversial history in The Woodlands, Wolda admitted, and he said there are mixed feelings about the decline and now departure of the boats, which were ridden by an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 people over a 15 year period.
“I think it is mixed views for a lot of people,” Wolda said on Tuesday as the boats were being carefully removed from the water by a high-elevation crane that was outfitted with canvas straps that were used to hoist the watercraft from their docks near The Woodlands Mall. “People had different views and expectations of the boats. People liked the boats, but they also had some controversy with them. There were a lot of opinions.”
The cruisers — which went into service in 2004 — formerly belonged to The Woodlands Development Co., which had an agreement with Florida-based company Water Taxi, Inc. to operate them. Wolda said the Woodlands Development Co. gifted the six 35-foot European-style boats to the township’s CVB for free.
From that time until 2016, the board were operated by the Brazos Transit District, the same company that operates The Woodlands Trolley buses. The operation of the cruisers was eventually taken over by Waterway Events LLC, a privately-owned family company from the Waco area, in 2015, but difficulties maintaining the watercraft led to declines in ridership and monetary losses.
Then, in August of 2017, Hurricane Harvey pummeled the Houston region with more than 50 inches of rain and the resulting high waters in The Woodlands led to the six boats suffering significant damage and becoming inoperable. By December of 2017, one of the boats was back running, but by February of 2018, the last working boat died and cruiser operations were halted.
After months of debate and discussion about how to move forward with the boats, township and CVB leaders determined it would cost too much money to repair them and, in August, it was decided to seek out companies that would remove the boats.
Wolda said the new owners of the watercraft plan to relocate them to Pompano Beach, Florida, and begin the extensive work needed to get some of the boats running again.
“The goal is for (the cruisers) to be back in service (in Florida). They were badly damaged in Harvey and need a lot of work,” Wolda explained. “(The owner) Is going to put some into operation, but he is going to have to do a lot of renovations and rehabilitation that will cost tens of thousands of dollars.”
Wolda also stressed the boats never cost local taxpayers any money, as the operation of the boats was funded by ticket sales as well as funds from the local hotel occupancy tax collected by the township at the more than a dozen hotels in The Woodlands. While the boats were popular, fixing them was too costly an option for the township, he added.
“They had a negative value, you would have had to put a lot of money into them to make them run again,” Wolda said. “We’re looking for something potentially new for the Waterway. We’re open to new ideas and concepts.”