Side Dish 

Negotiations for a new riverfront restaurant are going swimmingly

See how this floats your boat: After an eight-year hiatus, it looks as if the Robert E. Lee Riverboat at the foot of the Arch will finally, finally be reopened later this year, perhaps as early as the summer.

I've learned never to believe in a St. Louis development project until I hear the hammers, but a recent cryptic allusion on the editorial page of the Post-Dispatch prompted me to walk down to the riverfront recently, and lo! -- what did I hear but the whack-whack-whack-whack-whack! of construction.

Although the Post editorial misidentified the boat as the long-ago-moved-to-St. Charles Goldenrod Showboat (and curiously failed to accurately identify it in the next day's correction), I was able to confirm that the editorial got it at least half-right: The new restaurant will be a Mesquite Charlie's, which first began operations about 14 years ago in Pensacola, Fla., and now has a restaurant there and a four-year-old supersize restaurant in Branson. The chief operating officer of Mesquite Charlie's, who gave only the single name of Moroni, tells me that the St. Louis restaurant will seat 499 and will have prices similar to those at the Branson location, where a 20-ounce T-bone sells for $19.

I was unable to reach Rick Yackey, the owner of Norton's in Soulard, who, along with several partners, forms Downtown St. Louis Investment Co. Inc., whom the St. Louis Board of Aldermen gave access to $600,000 in TIF financing in 1999. However, Ald. Phyllis Young (D-7th), who represents downtown and the riverfront, says the TIF is still in place, and Moroni notes that Mesquite Charlie's will be leasing the space.

In short, yippee! In a city full of ignored or neglected assets, the riverfront is near the top of the list. But no longer will we be waitin' on the Robert E. Lee to stop looking like a rotting hulk and start saying, "Welcome to St. Louis" as a reminder of our riverboat heritage.

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