The city just might make you a deal.
Columbus leaders heralded the addition of a life-size replica of the Santa Maria along the Scioto River three decades ago as “an inspiration to us all” and a “lifetime legacy” for the city. That lifetime proved to be brief. Today, the pieces and parts of that legacy are silently rotting away in a South Side city-owned lot.
“She's not in great shape,” admits Brian Hoyt, communications and marketing manager for the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, which inherited the ship when the nonprofit organization that operated it as a tourist attraction folded in 2011. “To restore it would cost a couple of million bucks, and it's not a priority for us.”
The $1.5 million, three-masted cargo vessel was built with private money and moored in the river near the Joseph P. Kinneary U.S. Courthouse beginning in 1991, as part of the city's 1992 Christopher Columbus Quincentennial Jubilee celebrating the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage to the New World. Sailors in 1492 garb showed off the 90-foot-long ship with its spartan straw-mat beds to visitors for a small fee and told them stories about sailing in the 15th century.
But while the ship was a popular attraction at first, attendance waned over the years. A 2013 city study concluded that the ship was leaking, the planking was rotting, and it would cost
$5 million to $6 million to restore or replace the vessel. The study concluded it had “no market value as a vessel” and was a “financial liability.”
At the same time, the city was planning a massive renovation and narrowing of the Scioto River Downtown, making it impossible to keep the Santa Maria where it was. The city pulled it from the water and moved it in 10 pieces to the South Side city lot, where it remains.
EPA rules won't allow it back on the river, Hoyt says, and no one has come forward to claim it.
“I'd love to see someone do something with it,” he says. “I went there as a kid and enjoyed it. We're open to any ideas that don't involve us funding it, but no one has been beating down our doors.”
Hoyt encourages anyone interested to email firstname.lastname@example.org.