Businessman wants to rent out hand-built pontoon boat - Video

July 2011 News
A local businessman wants to let the public sail Lake Monona on his hand-built pontoon boat, but a city contract and other legal issues are holding the plan back.

Entrepreneur Joe Shulla spent 18 months assembling a 23,000-pound vessel he calls the Pontoon Porch -- half double-decker pontoon boat, half backyard deck.

He finally put the boat into the water at the Olin Park launch last week and was elated that it floated.

He wants to rent the boat to groups to let them spend a day on the water.

"Take it out, bring what you want to eat, what you want to throw on the grill, what you want to drink. (You can) turn it off, drift around; you can swim off it," Shulla said.

But the Betty Lou Cruise Company already has a contract with the city of Madison. In the contract, the city agreed not to contract with another tour boat operator at any city-owned park land other than the Monona Terrace.

But Shulla said his pontoon isn't a tour boat, but a rental. He said he's not looking to go after Betty Lou Cruise Company's business anyway.

"It's real unique. It's unbelievable when you're on it," Shulla said. "We'll be able to have TV, football games, Badger games, Packer games, things like that in the fall."

"He's put a lot of time and energy and effort, and without question he deserves the opportunity to explore his venture with the city," said Madison Alderman Tim Bruer.

But Bruer said the city has questions that it and Shulla have to answer first.

"What is the city's liability, and liability to the taxpayer if an inexperienced boater leases it for the evening and there's damage to property or life?" Bruer said.

Bruer said the city may also want to require Shulla to have a Coast Guard-certified captain, as is the case for the Betty Lou, because it carries more than 15 passengers.

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