Kalakala owner wants beer summit with Obama




Posted on March 4, 2010 at 6:59 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 4 at 7:06 PM

TACOMA, Wash. - She sits a sad hulking shell of her former self -- beside piles of packaged waste at a Tacoma recycling plant, but Steve Rodrigues sees the Kalakala as a thing of beauty.

"It is an icon of its time. It is an icon of the future," said Rodrigues, the boat's owner. "Like the Eiffel Tower, the Space Needle, the Empire State Building."

Rodrigues has been trying to restore the nearly 75-year-old ferry since he bought it in 2003 and turn it into an $11 million events center on the Seattle waterfront, but the waters have been rough.

The Kalakala was blasted as an eyesore and kicked out of Seattle's Lake Union. It spent some time in Neah Bay before finding a home in Tacoma's Hybelos Waterway.

"The trials and tribulations are what has made it fulfilling," said Rodrigues, undeterred.

Before the ship might sail once more, Steve Rodrigues has a road trip to make - his own personal "beer summit."

Rodrigues has moved out of his apartment and into a rented bus where he will live for the next year, travelling the country to raise awareness of the boat. He'll walk 1,000 of those miles in PR events -- all leading up to what he hopes will be a meeting with President Obama.

"I hope that I have a beer with him in the Rose Garden," Rodrigues chuckled. "The agenda would be to talk about the Kalakala as a national landmark."

Landmark status would give Rodrigues access to private bonds, meaning he'd no longer have to seek financial help from the state to keep his dream afloat. It's a dream that to many appears impossible, but Steve Rodrigues continues to believe.

"The Kalakala's story is America's story. It is not impossible. Nothing is impossible," he said.