The Edmonton Queen will stay moored on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River while the man at the helm of the riverboat focuses on getting the restaurant and bar afloat for the summer.  

"It is a very calm and beautiful place to relax and have a meal, have a coffee, have a beer. It's a beautiful setting," said boat owner Jay Esterer.

He's been renovating the interior since he bought the 25-year-old riverboat last summer.

He upgraded the plumbing and electrical systems, installed new floors, put in new refrigeration and a new bar. Next, he's redecorating the walls with a ship motif. 

It's still a construction zone, but he hopes to have the upgrades finished by the end of June with the goal of holding events and parties throughout the summer.

Pondering the permit

But Esterer is treading water while the city reviews his application to hold events on the Queen's two decks.

The development permit would allow him to use the boat dock and boat launch, which are in the city's jurisdiction. Esterer plans to re-open the restaurant and bar, which he said can accommodate 150 to 200 people.

Harry Luke, a senior planner with development services, said the city received the application for the permit April 26 but he wouldn't give a deadline for when or if it would be approved.

"It's a unique development," Luke said. "There's not too many applications that we receive in the river valley such as this. So, you know, it takes some time."

Inside Riverboat

The Edmonton Queen has new floors, a new bar, upgraded kitchen facilities, plumbing and electrical systems. (Jay Esterer )

He said the most important part of evaluating the application is the environmental aspect, pointing out that the city needs to rely on information from the river valley bylaw team.

Esterer is still puzzled why this kind of application would take so long.

"The boat is not being repurposed," Esterer pointed out. "I'm applying for a development permit for exactly what the boat has been used for for the last 20 years. It should be very straightforward."

In a follow-up request for an approval date, CBC News was told the application is "complicated and multi-jurisdictional."

"As a result of that we can't give a definitive time as to when or if the application will be approved," city spokesperson Lisa Sobchyshyn said in an email.

Once Esterer gets the development permit, he said he will apply for business and liquor licenses.

Balancing river integrity and activity

The city is responsible for reviewing how the boat, the launch and the dock affect the stability of the riverbank and the river itself, Luke said.

"We want to protect the integrity of the river valley," he explained. "At the same time, we want to encourage …  enjoyment of the river valley in general," he said.  

The paddlewheeler-style boat was built in Edmonton in 1993 and is registered with Transport Canada. It's been docked at Rafter's Landing — a mooring area some would like to see shared more than it has been in the past.

Jay Esterer

Boat owner Jay Esterer believes the Edmonton Queen can help revitalize activity in the river valley. (Jay Esterer)

Larry Wall, executive director of the River Valley Alliance, said he believes Esterer is interested in having the dock more accessible to a broader paddling community. 

Wall said they plan to "work with the River Queen and actually bring more traffic to the area by opening up the dock for other boats."

Esterer said he's looking forward to helping develop a bigger plan for the river.

"I'm very excited about it because there has been a big push in the last few years to revitalize the river valley, to revitalize the activity on the river," he said.

"I think this fits perfectly with the direction that the city is moving to improve the use of the river valley."

Safety inspections stall sailing

Esterer is holding off on getting the boat inspected, as the heavy equipment and personnel needed to haul it out of the water and take it to Whitemud Park would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.

"I'm hoping to come up with a more cost-effective way of doing that inspection and perhaps figuring out a way of doing it in situ — bring it up into dry dock where it is right now," Esterer explained.

Along with the development permit to hold parties on the boat, Esterer is applying for a building permit to build a boat lift so he can "bring it out at will." 

Riverboat wheel

The paddlewheeler-style riverboat was built in Edmonton in 1993 and is registered with Transport Canada. (CBC)

Luke said that, too, will have to go through due process.

"If there are changes like the proponent is suggesting, like the revised boat dock and the new boat lift, there's a possibility — a high possibility — that city council will have to approve it."

Esterer isn't aiming to have the add-ons done this year, but hopes to open the boat to the public every day this summer.

"A July 1st party would be great," he said.

Luke said the final decision rests with the development officer.