By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun
2:30 PM EDT, August 29, 2013
A Mississippi-style riverboat tied up in Canton sold Thursday for a bid of $357,200 at an auction that drew attention from up and down the East Coast.
The sale of the 140-foot Liberty Belle, which once offered dinner cruises on the Delaware River near Philadelphia before being dry docked in Baltimore for repairs, drew about 25 people and lasted about 15 minutes, said Scott Frank, of Alex Cooper Auctioneers Inc., which handled the sale.
The paddle-wheeler was built in 1997 for $3.4 million, and can host as many as 400 passengers in its multiple dining rooms.
The winning bidder was Julia Pledger, representing Captain JP Cruise Line from Troy, N.Y., which operates a 210-foot cruise boat in New York and also purchases boats, refurbishes them and then resells or leases them.
Pledger, who owns the company with her brother, Jim, said she saw potential in the Liberty Belle. The company successfully flipped another boat bought in Baltimore about six years ago, and was in the position to take on another project, she said.
The seller was Liberty Belle Holdings Inc. It's principal representative, Robert Connell, could not be reached immediately.
"The seller's happy. The buyer's happy. It was really nice turn out of people," Frank said.
Leonard Schleider, the owner of the only paddlewheel boat operating in Baltimore, the Black Eyed Susan, said he will be happy to see the Liberty Belle gone.
"Baltimore doesn't have any more room for big boats," he said with a laugh.
After the auction was announced, people — including brides that booked the Black Eyed Susan for their ceremonies — confused the boats and called Schleider, worried he was going out of business. Headaches ensued, he said.
Schleider said the Liberty Belle is a "great boat" and he wishes the new owners well, but times aren't easy for boat operators, he said.
"The economy has affected it," he said. "Most of our industry is dependent on corporate spending, and that's been curtailed over the last five or six years."
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