MORGANTOWN — It’s been the Bisquayne Bell, the Gateway River Bell and the Tunica Queen. Now the 125-foot long, 35-foot wide riverboat goes by the name Mountaineer Star, and if everything goes to plan, it will be under way in Morgantown by this time next year.
Pennsylvania native Michael Hughes spent the last two years preparing the vessel he hopes will be docked near a newly renovated Hazel Ruby McQuain Park and Amphitheater in April 2019.
Hughes said the timeline will largely depend on a pair of grants being used to assist with renovations to the boat.
“We’re kind of in a holding pattern right now to see if those two grants bear fruit. If they do, then it’s really going to be an aggressive schedule to get there by April 2019 with all the hardware that needs to be put in place,” Hughes said.
Hughes formed the company Access H2O in 2013. In January 2017, he approached Morgantown City Council about bringing a riverboat to town.
“It’ll be very similar to what the Gateway Clipper fleet provides [in Pittsburgh],” Hughes said. “It’ll be weddings and proms and dance cruises, different attractions for tourism and sightseeing.”
Hughes, a licensed captain, retired from CONSOL Energy after a 40-year career spent on the water and running a shipyard — which happens to be where he first laid eyes on the vessel destined to become the Mountaineer Star.
He said the boat is rated by the U.S. Cost Guard to hold as many as 325 people, though that number will go down once it’s fully outfitted as a floating reception hall.
In a previous life, it served as part of the Gateway Clipper fleet, which will serve as both regional competition and a sister organization, Hughes said.
“The owner of the Clipper Fleet and myself have been friends for years and years. Terry Wirginis is a real gentleman. He’s happy for me, and he’s happy for the area to get another boat in the mix,” Hughes said.
When not under way, the Mountaineer Star will be docked at what Hughes calls it’s “home port,” a 220-foot long, 40-foot wide floating barge that will be just one of the changes coming to the riverfront thanks to a $4.1 million gift from the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust.
Morgantown Communications Director Andrew Stacy said work on the riverfront overhaul will likely begin this fall.
The city is negotiating with Thrasher Engineering and Pittsburgh-based design firm Strada for completion of the project’s design plans.
Council approved a $209,700 contract in March, naming March-Westin the city’s “construction manager at risk” for the project.
“I think both projects will enhance each other,” Hughes said of the Mountaineer Star and the city’s riverfront upgrades. “Hopefully the improvements they make to the park will bring notoriety to the boat. and the boat will bring notoriety back to the park.”