HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Viking River Cruises has changed course and again plans to offer Mississippi River cruises to Hannibal in the future.
Viking had told city officials in December 2017 that it was putting its Hannibal plans on hold. But then on Wednesday, Mayor James Hark said that Viking has decided to "recommit" to Hannibal and is making tentative plans to have six cruise ships each make 19 trips annually to Mark Twain's boyhood hometown starting in late 2021 or early 2022.
Hark said this would amount to 114 additional port landings each summer -- on top of the 28 to 30 that already occur each year in Hannibal. He said that would have a big economic impact, considering each cruise ship would carry up to 338 passengers and 120 crew members who would be looking for places to eat, drink and shop.
"I'm excited about it," Hark said while speaking to a crowd at a ceremony marking the completion of the city's new roundabout on Shinn Lane near Hannibal Regional Hospital.
"It's great news for our local merchants, great news for our local businesses," he said.
Hark used the roundabout ribbon cutting as a forum to announce a series of developments for the city.
Hark also revealed that a local company, Bleigh Construction, was the apparent low bidder for the city's riverfront development project, expected to cost just under $7 million.
"You're going to have local people working on a local project," he said. "It can do nothing but help our local economy."
Bids for the project were opened Tuesday and are being reviewed. City Manager Jeff LaGarce said four companies submitted bids. He said Bleigh Construction's bid totaled $6.648 million, which includes the base bid plus nine of the 12 alternate pieces of the project. The city engineer's estimate for the same range of work was $6.9 million.
Hark said he expects the City Council to award a contract at its Nov. 6 meeting.
"I would hope to see them shoveling dirt soon after," he said.
Hark said the riverfront redevelopment project is expected to be three-fourths completed by the peak of the tourist season next summer. The project will be fully completed well before Viking starts docking ships along Hannibal's riverfront.
"We have a couple of years to get ready," he said.
The riverfront development project has been a goal of Hark's ever since he announced plans to run for his first term in office in 2015. Hark on Wednesday announced plans to seek re-election in 2019.
"I want to continue what we started," he said.
The main purpose of Wednesday's gathering was to celebrate the completion of the roundabout project, which was designed to speed up traffic flow in the fast-growing area near the hospital campus.
Bleigh Construction carried out the $1.64 million project. Construction began in early May and involved excavation, grading, concrete work, storm drainage piping, landscaping and lighting.
Shinn Lane was closed for about four months, with the main entrance to the hospital campus inaccessible. The roundabout was opened to traffic Friday.
Hark called the roundabout a "fantastic addition" to the city.
"We have a product here that is second to none," he said. "This is a demonstration of what our local workers can do."