KANSAS CITY, Mo. — – The sprawling Arabia Steamboat Museum has served as an anchor tenant in Kansas City’s City Market since 1991. But now it appears those days are coming to an end.
“When it’s time to move, it’s time to move,” said David Hawley, owner of the museum.
Hawley teamed up with his brother and father to unearth the 1856 Arabia shipwreck from a cornfield in Wyandotte County in 1988.
The ambitious excavation project garnered headlines across the globe and yielded a treasure trove of artifacts from the 19th century.
For nearly three decades, Hawley’s collection has been on display at the Arabia Steamboat Museum. But Hawley said when the lease is up on the city-owned building in 2026, the popular tourist attraction will leave Kansas City.
“I would almost assure you that come November 2026, the museum doors will close,” he said.
Hawley said in addition to raising the rent, city officials have told him there are plans to surround his museum with bars and restaurants. Hawley said, even with insurance, his priceless collection cannot be housed in a building with the possibility of water leaks and other hazards.
“But I’m excited, too, about the future,” he said.
Hawley insists he’s not bitter and is now planning an even larger, more ambitious museum to overall steamboat history — just not in Kansas City.
A proposed bill in the Missouri legislature would create a Steamboat Legacy Fund. Hawley believes that would help build an enormous museum, housing possibly six more unearthed steamboats, in Jefferson City.
“This would be the Smithsonian of the Midwest,” Hawley said.
Even if the large-scale plans in Jefferson City don’t materialize, Hawley said he’s been entertaining offers to move his museum to places like St. Joseph, Independence and even Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“I’m doing all I can do, honest to goodness, all I can do to keep this boat here in the state of Missouri,” Hawley said. “Whether it’s in Kansas City, St Joe, Independence, Jeff City. I’ll turn up every rock and see if there’s anyway to go there.”
Kansas City Councilman Jermain Reed tells FOX4 he believes the Arabia Steamboat Museum is a local treasure and remains hopeful that something can be worked out to keep it here.