KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Steamboat Arabia Museum owner David Hawley says with the museum's lease with Kansas City, Missouri, expiring in 2026, it's likely time for the museum to set sail for a new home.
Hawley told KSHB 41 News that the museum has signed a letter of intent with St. Charles, Missouri, to re-establish the museum in the city.
He says his understanding is that KCMO does not wish to extend the lease in 2026 and that if it were to extend, rent would increase significantly and the city would be free to lease the museum's upper space.
While the steamboat made its home in the City Market after sinking in the Kansas City area in 1856 and getting recovered in 1988, Hawley says there are factors that make relocation an ideal fit for the museum.
“The parking there in the City Market has become very difficult and very challenging," Hawley said.
Another concern Hawley cited was the size of the building, saying the museum's current building is not big enough for the Arabia collection which he plans to add more artifacts to. Hawley also has goals of showcasing an Indian trade ship called the Steamboat Malta, which he and his crew located in 2016.
Hawley's son Matt told KSHB 41 around 20 to 30 percent of artifacts are yet to have been brought out due to a lack of space in Kansas City.
"We have two prefabbed homes on board the Arabia. We didn't even know this existed at the time, but we got two of them," Matt Hawley said. "If we had a larger facility, we would have the potential to build those homes and let that be another display for folks. The clothing that is on display today, that is only showing you 2% of the clothing found on board of the Arabia. So we need a big facility even just to tell the Arabia story."
With more space, Matt Hawley plans to expand and recover more steamboats still buried, like the Malta.
"If no one goes out and gets them, I think it's a huge chunk of American history that's lost, and it doesn’t need to be," he said. "It just takes a group of people dedicated enough to go out and say we are going to bring up these treasures and we are going to tell these stories."
David Hawley says officials with the city of St. Charles told him "we are excited" at the prospect of welcoming the Arabia Steamboat Museum and that the museum "blends perfectly" with the city's tourism industry. He also said St. Charles' riverfront property makes the city a good fit.
Although, Matt Hawley adds there are still plans to work out in finding a new home in St. Charles.
"As far as where in St. Charles we'd actually go, that's is what is being debated and talked about. The question is do we take an existing building and try and make it fit for the story that we are wanting to tell or does it require building a whole new complex," Matt Hawley said.
Even with the excitement surrounding the potential of what St. Charles has to offer, David Hawley says plans to leave its first home in the City Market aren't being made lightly.
"We have loved Kansas City. Kansas Citians have supported it. They’ve come back and visited over and over," David Hawley said. "We would be sad to leave Kansas City, we really would."
Having grown up with the museum in KC, Matt Hawley describes the move as bittersweet.
"You know when you grow up with it, it's not that big of a deal. You know on weekends, we’d go to my grandparents and the kids, we’d clean buttons," Matt Hawley said. "When you spend 30 years in a location, it becomes — this feels like a second home, I was literally raised in this museum."
In the meantime, David Hawley says they'll likely take six months to review cost, locations, building size and other logistics.
Regardless of where the museum decides to drop anchor, it will remain open to the public.
“We will be open for years yet to come,” David Hawley said.