The Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission (JEDCO), in partnership with the City of Gretna and Louisiana Economic Development, welcomed French America Line to Jefferson Parish on Friday. The startup riverboat cruise line, which offers premium tours along America’s waterways, announced the establishment of its corporate headquarters on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. Operations began out of JEDCO’s Business Innovation Center in the Churchill Technology & Business Park earlier this year. Additionally, the City of Gretna’s ferry terminal will become the home port for French America Line’s deluxe 150-passenger vessel, the Louisiane.
Marketing, sales, and reservations of French America Line’s riverboat cruises will be provided by affiliate, Uncommon Journeys, which specializes in high-end travel and tours throughout North America. The increased interest in New Orleans as a travel destination drove the decision to relocate the Uncommon Journeys headquarters from Oakland, CA to Jefferson. Uncommon Journeys will share office space with French America Line in the JEDCO Business Innovation Center during the startup phase.
French America Line and Uncommon Journeys anticipate the creation of 94 direct jobs within the community; 64 positions will be created aboard the Louisiane and 30 new jobs will be added shore-side. The company will have an estimated annual payroll of $2.1 million, which will include a mix of seasonal, hourly wage employees and permanent salaried employees. French America Line invested over $7.5 million into the community with an estimated economic impact of $58 million. French America Line offers five-to-ten- day cruises on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland, and Red Rivers with stops at major U.S. cities along the way. The boutique riverboat will offer 75 suites and staterooms, two restaurants, three lounges, a full-service spa and nightly entertainment.
The Louisiane, formerly the Columbia Queen that sailed Oregon’s Columbia River, was purchased by French America Line in 2015. The luxury riverboat is currently en route from Oregon to Gretna via the Panama Canal on a journey that will take a total of four weeks. In mid-July, the Louisiane will arrive at the Gretna Ferry Landing, which will be rebranded by French America Line in the coming months. The terminal has been underutilized since the halt of regular ferry service to Gretna in 2013. Once in Jefferson Parish, the Louisiane will be refurbished by Bollinger Quick Repair based out of Harvey.
“The arrival of French America Line and the Louisiane in Jefferson Parish this summer is a fulfillment of a three-year project to restore the region as a headquarters for a proudly American owned riverboat company operating deluxe voyages on America’s Waterways,” says Christopher Kyte, French America Line Founder. “We are also delighted to be creating local jobs in Jefferson Parish along with the significant impact of local purchasing, everything from groceries to flowers to fuel. We are hugely grateful to the far-sighted leadership at JEDCO and the City of Gretna, without whom this project would not have happened.”
A portion of the revenue generated from French America Line’s operations will be exclusively reserved for the future development of a permanent water transit service connection between the City of Gretna and New Orleans. Working with regional transportation officials, the launch of French America Line places the City of Gretna in a much stronger position to move towards resuming water transit services for the community. This economic development opportunity creates synergy between Downtown Gretna and the Gretna Ferry Landing, aiding in the city’s long-term goal to develop the area into a vibrant destination and a viable transportation hub.
“This is a major economic development opportunity for the City of Gretna,” said Gretna Mayor Belinda Constant. “This project will bring quality jobs with benefits to our residents, and complements our vision to continue making Gretna a destination within the Greater New Orleans Region. Additionally, the project will support our recently released Gretna Downtown 2020 plan and serve as a driver for promoting our riverfront and future water-transit options.”
JEDCO played a vital role in attracting French America Line and Uncommon Journeys to the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. In partnership with Louisiana Economic Development, the local economic development organization provided site selection and incentive assistance to the company while also interfacing with the City of Gretna to reach an agreement on the use of the dormant ferry terminal. JEDCO also financed a portion of the project to aid in the vessel’s relocation from Oregon to the City of Gretna.
“We are excited to welcome French America Line and Uncommon Journeys to Jefferson Parish,” says Jerry Bologna, JEDCO President & CEO. “Not only will French America Line bring the Gretna Ferry Landing back into use, but they will also hire and purchase supplies and commodities locally. We look forward to the increase in tourism this company will bring to the West Bank along with the direct and indirect impact French America Line will have on our community. JEDCO will remain a long-term partner to aid French America Line in its future successes.”
“French America Line’s decision to locate in Jefferson Parish speaks volumes to our talented workforce, excellent infrastructure, and quality business climate,” says Jefferson Parish President Michael S. Yenni. “This project marks a unique opportunity for Jefferson Parish to showcase its offerings to the rest of the world. As individuals travel to Jefferson Parish to embark on these riverboat tours, they will experience southern hospitality in quality hotels, excellent food in world-class restaurants, and a creative culture that can only be found in our community. We appreciate French America Line’s investment in our community and look forward to watching the company grow and thrive in Jefferson Parish.”
Justin T. Augustine, III, Vice President of TransDev added, “Transdev is very excited to partner with the City of Gretna, Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development (LADOTD) and French America Lines (FAL) to provide berthing space for this exciting venture. This economic opportunity represents the first step towards future ferry operations from the City of Gretna to the City of New Orleans. I would like to thank all parties for their steadfast determination to get this deal done, another step toward Regionalization.”
Governor John Bel Edwards highlighted the announcement, saying “The Mississippi River has long been a source of inspiration for artists, writers, and many more, and it is a vital part of state’s culture and history. Today, it continues to inspire countless travelers from around the nation and across the globe, who take in our breathtaking landscape and rich culture while supporting our tourism industry and creating great opportunities for our people. We encourage everyone to visit our great state and share in its beauty, and we welcome French America Line and their mission to help us tell Louisiana’s story.”
Inaugural sailings of the Louisiane will begin in September 2016.