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Steamboat Arabia Museum Charts Course Away From City Market, Toward Jefferson City

Samuel King
KCUR 89.3
The lease for the Steamboat Arabia Museum at Kansas City's City Market will expire in 2026.

The founder of the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City backs legislation that would move it to Jefferson City.

It comes as David Hawley plans a new excavation of a steamboat, which would require much more space than is available at the museum’s City Market site.

“This building is too small, what you see as we walk through is the Arabia collection only, and it fills this building,” Hawley said. “We would need a building much larger.”

The bills in the Missouri General Assembly are sponsored by Sen. Mike Bernskoetter and Rep. Dave Griffith, both Republicans from Jefferson City. They would raise the entrance fees that riverboat casinos licensees pay the state from $2 per person to $3 per person. That extra money would be used for a fund that would establish a new steamboat museum in Jefferson City.

Hawley testified in support of the Senate bill during a committee hearing this week.

Credit Samuel King / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Museum founder David Hawley points out the back of the steamboat Arabia as part of a tour of the museum.

The museum’s lease at City Market expires in 2026, and Hawley is already looking for new sites to protect its collection. He first discovered the sunken Arabia in 1987 in a farm field in Kansas, about a half-mile from the present Missouri River channel. The museum, which opened in 1991, displays hundreds of artifacts from the site.

He said the city has offered a lease extension, but it includes an increase in rent along with a provision that allows new tenants be added on top of the museum. Hawley also said development has reduced the number of parking spaces in the area.

“We’ve been down that road before and it was a disaster, and we’ve got to be sure that the collection is safe, and we have places to park our customers,” Hawley said. “There’s nothing wrong with Kansas City, it’s my home. I’ve grown up here, it would be great to be here. It’s just that no one has come along and said let’s try to find a way.”

Beth Breitenstein with the city’s planning and development department would not comment on the lease negotiations, but noted Hawley’s plans to add more to the museum.

“As the Market does not have any additional space to expand the museum, at this time we believe patrons of the City Market can enjoy the Steamboat Arabia Museum through November 2026.”

Hawley said there is also interest from St. Joseph and as far away as Pittsburgh, but the Jefferson City plans are the farthest along.

Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews

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