(June 2018) – After a decade of operating the Madison Lighthouse floating restaurant and marina on the Ohio River at Madison, Ind., Gary Gillespie and Charlene Ballard have sold the business to Rivercrest Marina owners Tom and Melodie Powers. The recent flooding completely damaged the walkway and sank some of the barges, with the prospect of rebuilding it apparently too much for Gillespie, 75, who was ready to retire anyway.
Ballard, 61, plans to stay on to manage the restaurant and kitchen, which did not receive damage, she said. “The kitchen is intact,” she said during an interview in late May.
“Tom and Melodie are great people and very professional,” Ballard said. “It will be a good match and I’m sure it will all work out.”
The Powers reside in Middletown, Ky., where Tom has worked as a paint contractor and in construction and building rentals. The couple bought Rivercrest Marina in 2016 and improved it by having it dredged out and constructing new boat shelters and docks. The couple has a boat at Rivercrest Marina and at the Louisville Yacht Club.
Powers said the opportunity to buy and restore the Madison Lighthouse seemed like a natural move.
Photo by Patti Watson
A diving crew begins work on repairing the restaurant.
“After having bought the marina a few years ago, we felt this was a good fit for us,” said Powers, 62. “We have promoted the restaurant for years to our boaters, and we have been friends with Gary and Charlene for a long time.”
“It’s going to be the old Madison Lighthouse but with a facelift,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Powers and business partner Steve Fischer hired Keith Elkins of Louisville’s Commercial Diving Services Inc., d.b.a. River Creek Marine to demolish and rebuild a new walkway, raise the sunken barges and stabilize them and the floating sections with new pilings, spuds and clips to hold them together.
“It’s not easy to find someone in the area with the kind of equipment needed to raise a barge or work underwater to do those kind of repairs. We were fortunate to find Keith Elkins and he was able to get to us quickly.”
Elkins said it is a large task with lots of welding, but it’s nothing he hasn’t faced before. He has had to repair the Smuggler’s Cove Marina near Warsaw, Ky., three times over the years because of ice storms and flooding.
Elkins, 55, said the flooding put the restaurant and barges out of position. He plans to reposition it and add new pilings and guide wires and anchors to hold it in place. He said he must first move the barges out of the way so his team can clean out all the debris that has collected underneath. Then they will reposition the barges. “A lot of steel pieces got ripped to pieces. The downriver boat dock needs new anchors and clips between the barges holding them together. Then we need to repair the docks on the upper end of the restaurant.
“It’s not a couple of days’ work,” he said with a laugh. “We had to bring my barge in here to do the work.”
Powers says the restaurant menu won’t change, although they may add a few more items. He plans to have the restaurant painted and spruced up a bit. And it needs some electrical improvements as a result of the flooding.
Elkins’ crew began working on the underwater repairs in late May. Powers said he hopes to have the restaurant open by mid-June “and definitely before the Madison Regatta.”
Ballard said she is usually open by late April or early May to ramp up her staff in preparation for the busy summer season and Regatta. “We are already going to be late. So when we do open, we are going to be very busy.”
The Madison Lighthouse is a popular summer destination for tourists and local residents alike. Motorcycle riders arrive on Wednesday nights for “Bike Night.” Boaters from Louisville and Cincinnati enjoy tying up there for the night or weekends. Festival-goers enjoy having lunch or a drink there. It is the only floating restaurant on the Ohio River in the region.
The restaurant offers a small air-conditioned indoor seating area, a large outdoor seating area for family dining, and a small but popular tiki bar open to adults only.
Powers says owning the Madison Lighthouse will help him and his wife better serve the boating public in Madison.
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• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: info@RoundAbout.bz.
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