Photo provided by Jennifer Rome -- West Feliciana Parish leaders, from left, Jim Ferguson, director, Public Works Department; Laurie Walsh, director, tourism commission; Kevin Couhig, parish president; and Bettsie Norton, director, economic development meet Feb. 24 on the Mississippi River at St. Francisville, the site of a stop of the Viking River Cruises riverboat cruise to start in 2017.

Parish President Kevin Couhig said Viking River Cruises’ announcement that West Feliciana Parish will be a featured itinerary stop on its new Mississippi River cruise is “exciting news and a welcome tourism opportunity for the parish.”

“It will have a significant economic impact in West Feliciana,” Couhig said. “Viking River Cruises are renowned for providing first-class experiences. Their presence and passengers will tremendously enhance tourism in West Feliciana.”

The project, announced Feb. 24 by Gov. Bobby Jindal and Viking River Cruises Chairman Torstein Hagen, will be the first North American line for the company.

Expected to launch in March 2017, ships will depart from New Orleans and end each course, depending on the season, in Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis; or St. Paul, Minnesota.

Bienville Street Wharf at Woldenberg Park, near the French Quarter in New Orleans, has been selected to become the primary terminal in the home port, according to a news release.

In partnership with the city of New Orleans, the Port of New Orleans, New Orleans Steamboat Company and the Audubon Nature Institute, the company will make extensive improvements to the site.

In West Feliciana Parish, a site must be selected and prepared as an additional point of embarkation, Couhig said, and the increase in riverboat traffic, once Viking comes online, will require multiple locations with shore access.

“Efforts to secure a destination property have been underway for some time. However, the real work is just beginning. The ships must have a place to access the shore,” Couhig said. “A standard of excellence is the expectation of Viking River Cruises and their passengers, and West Feliciana has all the qualities required to deliver that. However, we must work together.”

Couhig said the parish will need to purchase property suitable for use as a port, a transaction that will require an ordinance from the Parish Council. Couhig emphasized that currently disputed land is not on the table.

“It would be difficult to overstate the potential opportunities and positive impact that this world-class company offers West Feliciana, and (we) need to be ready. It’s time to get down to business,” Couhig said.