By Rachel Galvin
Imagine playing craps with an octopus, putting on a poker face for card sharks under the sea and being served drinks by a mermaid… This fantastical concept will soon be a reality right off Pompano Beach. You will be able to stop for a selfie beneath the sea as you dive down to visit the Lady Luck, a 324 ft. historic tanker scheduled to be sunk on July 23 just 1 ½ miles off the shoreline.
The ship will be the centerpiece of what will become known as Shipwreck Park, surrounded by 16 other existing wrecks. This will be a unique underwater cultural arts park with rotating underwater art exhibits.
The Lady Luck has starfish and sand dollars on the highest level, closest to the surface where coral may grow. Down below, there are poker tables, crap tables and slot machines to explore, along with creative characters.
On July 8, many gathered inside the Pompano Marriott to celebrate the sinking of this vessel. It also served as a fundraiser toward that effort and for other events to come.
The road to creating this event was not a simple one. After attempting to purchase several boats and having the deals fall apart, they finally found a gem in New York, a tanker called Newtown Creek that had been decommissioned and was up for auction. Utilized to transport sludge in New York City since 1967, this vessel is getting a new lease on life as a tourist attraction thanks, in part, to Assistant City Manager for Pompano Beach Greg Harrison, who negotiated the deal from the original asking price of $235,000 down to $100,000.
Harrison said he was brought into the project in 2014.
“They assigned me to work with the chair of the economic development committee, Tommy DiGiorgio, Jr., and the chair of the tourism committee, Rob Wyre, to figure out how to make it a reality. It was a big challenge,” said Harrison.
Next, they needed an artist and that is when Dennis MacDonald came into play. Known locally for such projects as the Rapa Nui sculptures that were sunk off Deerfield’s pier June 7, 2015, MacDonald has worked with companies like Universal Studios and Disney in the past. When given the idea from the committees to do a casino theme, he wasn’t sure what to do, but it came to him eventually.
“When they gave me the concept, I was stumped at first, but then I thought, ‘Let’s have fun with this, make it whimsical.’ I started 2 ½ months ago. We used small models to create the sculptures. I had some art friends help me. Paul Costanza helped create the musculature on the sharks and helped with all the [characters’ attitudes]. I looked at the project as seven different environments, photo opportunities,” said MacDonald as he showed off a picture of his favorite slot machine, commenting, “I built it using pieces of the boat. It has a steampunk feel.”
Of course, getting sponsors was essential. Wyre is also the Regional Vice President of Operations and General Manager of the Isle of Capri Casino, so they partnered with the city on this venture, donating $312,500, which the city matched. The money goes toward cleaning up the boat to make it ready for the sinking, including removing any pollutants that may be harmful.
Wyre said, “This was the budget we thought we needed to just get it done, but we were a bit short. [This is why we are raising funds.]”
DiGiorgio understands the importance of this wreck on the community and the draw it will have from people all over the world.
“I was just in Spazio, Italy. There was a guy waiting for me and he didn’t speak English, but we were next to a dive shop and the guy there came out to [translate] for us.
He asked where I was from. I said ‘Ft. Lauderdale’ and then ‘actually Pompano.’ He said, ‘Pompano? Is that where they are sinking the casino boat?’ The guy takes people out on dives. He said next year, he is scheduled to go to Mexico, but, the year after, he is coming to Broward County,” he said.
He knows the economic engine this will be and talked about the large amount of hotel rooms that will be filled, and more to be added, just to accommodate the influx of tourists.
“The Vandenberg cost $9.5 million I think [sunk off the Keys in 2009]. The economic payback was less than six months. Spiegel Grove [also sunk there in 2002] cost $5 1/2 million and got a payback in less than three months.,” he said, adding, “It will take less than 20 minutes to get to [the site of the sunken Lady Luck], not a full day. In a couple of hours, people can have a great experience.”
At the July 8 event, there was a silent auction filled with nautical items, as well as a live auction with Pompano Mayor Lamar Fisher as auctioneer. Hors d’oeuvres and beverages were served. Joe West sang some oldies and speed artist Dale Henry a.k.a. “Paintman” quickly painted four pieces, which were auctioned.
DiGiorgio added that County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, who was at the event, was instrumental in getting free dockage at Port Everglades where the ship will be brought into, from its current position on the Miami River, before it sinks at 2 p.m. on July 23 off the Pompano Pier.
For more information, visit www.shipwreckparkpompano.org.