Even the Stanley Cup has taken a ride on the Maid Of The Mist. Courtesy: Boston Bruins
NIAGARA FALLS, NY - Uncertainty shrouds some aspects of the future of the iconic Maid of the Mist Boat Tours, after a decision announced by Canadian officials late Wednesday.
In two years time, the operation on the Canadian side will be turned over to a new company, which doesn't have a contract to operate on this side of the border.
The Niagara Parks Commission, opting for a more lucrative deal, awarded the rights to operate tour boats from its shores beneath the world famous Niagara Falls, to San Francisco based Hornblower Cruises And Events instead of the Glynn family, which has operated the more than 150 year old attraction for the past several decades.
The decision has opened up Pandora's Box of "now what?" among officials on the American side.
"I think at this point all the stake holders are trying to figure out what the ramifications of yesterday's decision are going to be going forward," remarked Niagara Falls, NY Mayor Paul Dyster.
While losing its bid to renew its lease to operate on the Canadian side of the Falls after the 2013 tourist season, the Glynn's still have a long term lease to operate the boat tours on the American side.
New York State awarded the Glynn's the deal as a "single source provider", which is another term for a no bid contract when it's determined that no one else is in the position to perform a task or function, primarily because the Glynns had exclusivity to the waters below the falls. Now that position seems to have been, in at least one sense, invalidated.
"We have a valid contract with the Maid of the Mist right now to operate boat tours at Niagara Falls State Park," said NYS Parks Spokesperson Angela Berti.
While the Glynn's company could still conceivably pick up passengers on the American side, there is currently no place to store boats for the winter. During the off season they are dry docked on the Canadian side where Hornblower would now have exclusive rights.
Asked whether this would leave the Glynns unable to fulfill the current terms of its contract with NY State, Berti would only say, "It's really too early in the process to speculate," before declining further comment including on whether New York State might now be seeking to negotiate with Hornblower.
"If we need to establish new operations over here on the U.S. side, we're happy to talk to the Glynns about that," said Sam Hoyt, Western Regional Director of the Empire State Development Corporation, although geography alone might make building a permanent docking and storage facility for tour boats on the American side prohibitive if not nearly impossible.
"It may be complicated, no doubt about it," Hoyt told WGRZ-TV.
There's also the possibility the Glynns may attempt to negotiate some sort of deal with Hornblower, or decide to cease their operation entirely.
Either way, they're not saying, only issuing the following statement on Wednesday:
-Today we learned that the Maid of the Mist's bid for the renewal of its lease with the Niagara Parks Commission was rejected by the Ontario government. As a result of this decision, our business, with a 165 year history of service to tourists from around the world, may soon come to an end. The Maid of the Mist has provided world famous, safe, reliable and affordable boat tour service, and its trademarked brand name has become synonymous with the Niagara Falls experience, drawing millions of tourists to the region annually. The implications of this decision are very complex, and impact on many parties and create many uncertainties, including whether or not a boat tour service will be offered in Niagara Falls, Ontario in 2012. We are carefully assessing our position and will be consulting with other affected parties as we attempt to address the many serious issues resulting from this decision. No further comments will be made at this time.
Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company Ltd.
"That's the concern... is that the decision made by the Canadians may have an impact on the U.S. interest in having a tour boat operator on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls," said Dyster. "Anything that affects the stability of that attraction is obviously a concern for the city of Niagara Falls and for everyone involved in the tourism industry."
In its press release, Hornblower stated:
Hornblower's proposal offered the NPC a guaranteed rent in excess of $60 million for the first five years. In accordance with the terms of the RFP, Hornblower proposed a modest price increase, graduated over time, yet continuing to be affordable to all visitors and families. In addition, Hornblower plans to introduce a new, modern ticketing system; create inviting entry and boarding areas; build new vessels with more available viewing space and multi-lingual audio options; and establish a visitor's center and private event space at the water's edge.
Operations are slated to begin in the Spring of 2014. Hornblower will finalize vessel design and begin vessel construction and facilities permitting and planning immediately. The search for Hornblower's Niagara Falls senior management will also begin in early 2012. Additional positions will be filled as necessary from the talented employee resources within the community. The estimated employee count when fully operational is 200.