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Riverboat takes inaugural cruise Friday

The Phoenix will float out of the Selma City Marina on Friday and into the slow current of the Alabama River for its inaugural cruise.

Alabama River Cruises will offer two-hour cruises for private parties and groups on the 50-foot-long riverboat. Capt. Randy Thompson, a Lowndesboro resident with 32 years of experience, has operated the Phoenix in Montgomery the last four years.

He saw Selma as an untapped area and began working to move his business here.

“It is a river town,” Thompson said. “I think it’ll be a good thing all the way around, for us and Selma.”

City and county elected and economic officials will take the boat’s inaugural trip at 2 p.m.

Probate Judge Kim Ballard said this is a good sign people are willing to provide things citizens want to support.

“We are noted for (the river), probably even much more than Montgomery is,” Ballard said. “There’s some historic things that have happened on this stretch of the river.”

Thompson will operate year round. Only a wind advisory of 25 miles per hour or more, a five-foot rise in water level or shallow water levels will keep the boat docked.

Candace Johnson, Selma-Dallas County director of tourism, hopes the riverboat sparks the local economy through tourism and by involving local businesses. In the future, the city might offer a docking point at the proposed site of the new Riverfront Park along Water Avenue.

Johnson said the riverboat provides another stop for tourist groups that visit during Jubilee, Pilgrimage or any other time of the year.

“It’s going to get people more interested in the river,” Johnson said. “We can tie it into our already existing events.”

Wayne Vardaman, executive director of the Economic Development Authority, said this marks the first time a riverboat tour is permanently housed in Selma.

“The river is something we’re trying to develop,” Vardaman said. “We’ll have the ability for people to eat dinner and go on these tours. It adds to the quality of life.”

The riverboat comes at no cost to the city. Thompson owns, operates and maintains the boat. The City of Selma only provides a docking spot.

“We have that unique aspect that not everybody has — the Alabama River,” Johnson said. “The more we use it, the more our citizens and people around that can help get us funding to develop the riverfront are going to see how much importance we place on it. It just helps people appreciate the region of Selma and everything we have to offer here.”

Joe Sanders co-owns and operates the marina, which sits on city land. Sanders operates a restaurant and bar just up the grassy slope from the dock where the riverboat sits.

“It’ll bring people down here that don’t even know the marina exists,” Sanders said. “Any time a business opens in Selma, Ala., it’s a plus for all of us.”