Buyer sees Kalakala as a dinner theater

A Tumwater man who has previously proposed a historic redevelopment near Olympia has bought the Kalakala ferry.

Steve Rodrigues calls himself a developer, although he acknowledges he has yet to develop any projects.

"I haven't done anything. I'm a no one, but I have been working on plans for the past nine years," Rodrigues said. "But I have a professional team of world-class designers who are going to work with me on this project."

He is hoping his purchase of the Kalakala, for $136,560, will be the first step toward a "five-star floating restaurant and museum." His plans are to turn it into a floating dinner theater that would sail to ports in Seattle, Bremerton, Anacortes, the San Juan Islands and possibly Victoria, B.C.

He previously pitched plans to renovate the old Olympia Brewhouse in the Tumwater area, but the Tumwater City Council has so far decided not to fund the project.

Rodrigues said he is anxiously awaiting an Oct. 9 bankruptcy-court hearing for final approval of the Kalakala sale. The Kalakala Foundation, which was trying to restore the ferry, declared bankruptcy early this year. After that, Rodrigues plans to find a place where the boat can be renovated, and he hopes to open a temporary museum while the work is being completed. According to bankruptcy-court documents, Lost Horizons — Rodrigues' business for the Kalakala project — wire-transferred the payment for the Kalakala earlier this week.

"My dream is to preserve and restore historical buildings that the entire community has failed to save," Rodrigues said.

The bankrupt Kalakala is afloat at North Lake Union, in dire need of repairs. Rodrigues said he believes it will take millions of dollars and up to three years to do the renovations. Rodrigues said the money will come through venture capital but declined to give specifics.

The first step will be to fix the leaks in its hull, Rodrigues said. Its dull exterior will need to be restored with silvery aluminum, and the now-gutted interior will have to be renovated, he said.

Rodrigues said he plans to restore the ferry's horseshoe-shaped lounge and its dance floor and oyster bar. The Kalakala sailed between Seattle and Bremerton from 1935 to 1967.

Rodrigues said his business is called Lost Horizons after a 1937 movie of the same name, about a group of people who survive a plane crash in the Himalayas and discover a secret passage to a utopian Shangri-La.

"This was an art-deco ship that was built to please during the Depression era. It was something of great hope on the horizon."

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-464-2580 or