By Ray Spiteri, Niagara Falls, Ont.
Niagara Gazette — NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. — It’s premature to discuss potential problems with having two companies running boat tours in the Niagara River, says a spokeswoman with Hornblower.
“It is too soon to predict any problems or challenges,” said Tegan Firth when asked if having Maid of the Mist operate from the American shore and Hornblower from the Canadian side will make life more difficult for both parties.
“We have always held the position that two operators in the gorge is not ideal.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a deal with Maid of the Mist operators last week to allow the longtime tour boat company to continue operations on the U.S. side of the falls.
Under the amended agreement, the Maid will increase its licence payments to New York State Parks, projected to reach $105 million during the 30 years remaining on the contract. The money is three times larger than the revenues projected when the contract was initially approved in 2002.
Cuomo’s announcement comes 10 months after Canadian officials with the Niagara Parks Commission awarded a 30-year, $500-million contract to California-based Hornblower to provide boat tours from the Canadian side of the river, starting in 2014. It ended the Maid of the Mist’s decades-old presence on the Canadian side.
That decision led some to wonder whether the Maid business could continue because the company has used property it leases from Niagara Parks to store all of its boats since there is no such location on the American side.
On Tuesday, Cuomo said the Glynn family that owns the Maid of the Mist plans to invest $32 million in the former Schoellkopf Power Station on the U.S. side to make it suitable for winter storage and maintenance of its tour boats, and to provide amenities for public use and recreational activities. Upon completion, State Parks will own the improved facilities.
“As the largest ferry operator in New York and the U.S., we are pleased that the state will be benefitting from additional revenue, however the only way to ensure that the state will truly benefit is to open the process to transparent and competitive bidding,” said Hornblower chief executive officer Terry MacRae.
Maid of the Mist did not specifically answer questions about whether they foresee a problem sharing the Niagara River with Hornblower. Instead, company president Christopher Glynn said in an e-mail statement he is grateful to Cuomo for “his role in saving the Maid of the Mist.
“We are currently focusing our energies on preparing the site on the American side for construction of a new dry dock and other facilities. At the same time, our plans for the 2013 Maid of the Mist season on both sides of the border are well under way,” said Glynn.
“In 2014, visitors to Niagara Falls can be assured that the legendary boat ride, known as the Maid of the Mist, plans to continue to operate under the same schedule it has for many decades, providing a safe and memorable experience for generations to come.”
State Parks spokesman Dan Keefe said he doesn’t anticipate a problem with having two companies using a small section of the river.
Neither does NPC chairwoman Janice Thomson.
“I’m sure the operators will work something out,” she said, adding both companies have a world-class reputation in the tour-boat business.
Hornblower plans to start seasonal operations on the Canadian side of the Niagara River in April 2014.
Maid of the Mist will provide the service until then.