When one thinks of riverboat cruising, Minnesota may not be the first locale that comes to mind, but St. Paul, Minn. developer David Nelson has put together an ambitious plan for a floating condo community that would ply the nation’s waterways, beginning with the Mississippi River, which flows through St. Paul.

The $106 million project is basically a mixed-use development. It calls for developing 180 condos, along with restaurants and shops aboard The Marquette, a riverboat that the developer plans to outfit with a special energy-efficient engine, the Cyclone. “It essentially burns diesel fuel cleaner than most engines do,” says Nelson. Wastewater would be cleaned through the Zeeweed system developed by General Electric, Nelson says.

The condos are being sold on a fractional ownership basis, with full-time, half-time and other options available. Most of the 22 buyers who have completed ownership agreements to date have opted for two-bedroom units, Nelson says. A full-time, two-bedroom unit is priced at about $500,000, with a modest one-bedroom available for two months annually at $55,000.

Nelson just sold a unit yesterday, he says, to an Australian who lives in Guam. “A whole lot of entrepreneurial people like this concept. They seem to have the spirit of adventure.”

Nelson, who has lived on a St. Paul houseboat for 21 years with his wife, says he will not proceed with construction until 90% of the units are sold. “Things are a little slower now. We’re not any different than the rest of the country. A lot of people are sitting on the fence biding their time, waiting to see what the economy is going to do.”

The Marquette is 600 ft. long and 108 ft. wide. The floating condo concept presents a number of technical challenges, says Nelson. “You not only have to comply with every Coast Guard regulation, but you have to fit under every bridge, and go through locks.”

“It’s a floating town,” Nelson says. In addition to restaurants, the developer plans a putting green, swimming pools, theaters, a chapel, spa and hair salon for the 350 potential residents, who would be attended by 30 crew members. As envisioned, the boat will travel at least 6,600 miles along the Mississippi and intracoastal waterways, spending summers in the North, and winters in the South.

Small runabout boats would be lowered by elevator to take residents to casinos, golf courses, fishing spots, and other stops along the way.

As he waits for the real estate market to pick up, Nelson is marketing the condos on his Web site, www.rivercitiescondos.com.
“We’re being patient,” he says. “There’s no point in trying to paddle upstream right now.”