NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) - The future of the Maid of the Mist is in jeopardy. When a California-based company takes over in Canada next year, the iconic tour boat company won't have any place to store their boats.
Without a place to store boats, during the season, the century's old business would be out of business.
So in a bind, New York State allowed Maid of the Mist to build a dock on the American side of the Falls. It's a $32 million construction site at the old Schoellkopf Power Plant, and it's now part of a controversial State Supreme Court lawsuit.
Teresa and Larry Perras recently visited Niagara Falls for the first time. They made it a point to tour the racing rapids on the iconic Maid of the Mist.
"It was incredible," said Larry Perras. "You don't realize the power of it, until you're right close to it."
"It's about as close to God as you can get," Teresa Perras agreed.
After last year's loss of a multi-million dollar Canadian contract, the Maid of the Mist may need both hope and prayer to stay in business.
Terry MacRae is the CEO of Hornblower Cruise lines. Hornblower is set to start tour boat operations next year in Canada.
"From a practical stand point, iconic names don't live or last forever," MacRae said in a Skype interview with News 4. "You know, they've made tons of money over the years. They could retire and be happy, or they could continue to compete now in a market where they would have a competitor."
Enter New York State. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed late last year, saving the would-be sinking operation.
The MOU is an agreed upon addendum to the 40-year contract between the Maid of the Mist, New York State and the New York Power Authority. The addendum gives the Glynn family rights to build a $32 million dry docking site on the old Schoellkopf Power Plant. The construction is being done at their expense and will not cost taxpayers.
Through an official request, News 4 obtained the contract and MOU. The MOU explains this new docking facility is "necessary for the [Maid] to continue providing scenic boat excursions...as per the original license."
Pete Gallivan, a representative for Governor Andrew Cuomo told News 4, he stands by what was said in April:
"The state was in the tenth year of a 40-year contract in good standing with the Maid of the Mist...a family-owned business in New York State and Western New York since 1971. We didn't think it was right to pull the plug on that," Gallivan said.
Under the new MOU, the state would own the new dry docks. Maid of the Mist would be responsible for "all ongoing capital improvements, repairs, operation and security."
Beginning this year, the Maid of the Mist Corporation is required to pay a yearly license fee of at least $2.2 million, depending on the sale of tickets for boat rides.
The license fee doubled, according to this addendum, from 4- to 8-percent.
Additionally, beginning in 2018, the company will be paying 1-percent more, per year.
This year, according to the formal budget, included in the MOU, the Maid of the Mist will likely walk away with $2 million in net profit.
Under the new MOU, a water taxi would be added, shuttling guests between the seasonal docking site and the old Schoellkopf Power Plant. The state believes that will increase accessibility.
Hornblower says anything that happens at the old power plant at this point, is at the Maid of the Mist's own risk.
Hornblower is suing Maid of the Mist in State Supreme Court. They argue this MOU created a new contract with New York State. They believe the contract should have been opened for public bidding.
"The idea of building a second ship yard in the gorge, when there's one that's existing that's served both sides of the gorge for many years, seems kind of silly," says MacRae.
MacRae said Hornblower would have bid $100 million more on the life of the contract with New York State, than the Maid of the Mist is paying. MacRae said Hornblower boats would hold more people and would have more viewing platforms.
Horblower would charge $20 per ticket. That isn't any different than what the Maid of the Mist is charging per ticket, right now.
A judge will soon rule once and for all if the icon will stay in business at this "Wonder of the World." Until then, the Maid of the Mist will continue touring guests through a strong current of uncertainty.
Regarding the docks, Maid of the Mist released this statement:
"At the request of state officials, the Maid of Mist provided full financial disclosure as part of its amended contract at Niagara Falls. We were happy to comply with this and all other requests by the state to ensure that the project was handled appropriately. To suggest that there is any impropriety whatsoever with these disclosures is wrong.
"Comments about our drydock project are typical of the arrogance everyone has come to expect from Hornblower. From the beginning, they've been about one thing: trying to undermine the Maid of the Mist. But we're not giving in and we're not going away. We're
committed to the Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls and to the community. That's why we're driving resources into a joint effort with the governor to enhance facilities on the American side of the Falls. When this project is done, the Schoellkopf site will become a one-of-a-kind tourist attraction."
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