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Sunday, September 8, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Adios, Kalakala? Port rejects deal

Seattle Times staff reporter

Backers of the historic ferry Kalakala are devastated that the Port of Seattle nixed a proposal to moor it on the Seattle waterfront and say they may be forced to move the boat to another community.

Art Skolnik, executive director of the Kalakala Foundation, said he was contacted yesterday by officials in three Washington cities interested in taking the ferry. The cities include Port Angeles and Tacoma. He said the third is in the Puget Sound area, but officials there wanted to meet with the Kalakala Foundation before going public with their idea to use the boat for a conference center.

Skolnik said he still hopes something can be worked out in Seattle.

But yesterday, the future of the famous art-deco ferry was looking shaky. Skolnik said the Kalakala is being evicted from its site on Lake Union by the end of December and was planning to move to Pier 66.

"We don't have another place to go," he said.

After its 1967 retirement, the ferry was converted to a seafood-processing plant and later abandoned in Alaska; it was hauled back to Seattle in 1998 and has been at Lake Union ever since.

The Port has been in talks with the Kalakala Foundation, and was discussing whether to back a loan for the project, but Port officials announced Friday that they simply cannot afford to help the boat because its future revenues as a tourist draw and banquet facility are uncertain.

Right now, the Port is struggling financially and having to lay off people, said spokesman Mick Shultz.

Skolnik said if the boat cannot be moored on Seattle's waterfront, it will never get the cash flow to be viable.

So far, of $2 million spent on renovations, $1.5 million was borrowed and needs to be repaid, he said. The boat needs $12.8 million to be fully restored, Skolnik said.

Port Commissioner Paige Miller said the Port may be willing to discuss alternatives that do not include Port financing or loan guarantees. Those could include providing a temporary berth.

Skolnik, meanwhile, said that officials in Port Angeles have long been interested in the ferry because, at one time, it operated between Port Angeles and Victoria.

He said in Tacoma, a redevelopment group created by the port there has expressed interest.

Skolnik said if all else fails, there is a standing offer from a private party on the West Coast to buy the ferry. He declined to give details.

Bobbi Nodell: 206-464-2342 or bnodell@seattletimes.com.

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