by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — For the Maid of the Mist, 2012 can probably be described as schizophrenic.
It has ended with promising developments meant to keep the tour boat company afloat for years to come. And buoyed by a partnership with Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this month, the American boats will be docked on the American side for the first time.
As worries grew about the future of the tourist ferries, business this year boomed due to a number of factors. Warmer and drier conditions than average in the prime tourists season and some guy named Nik Wallenda, who took the boat for a visit to the base of Niagara Falls to get a good look at just what he’d gotten himself into before crossing the border by tightrope in June, helped the company record a “successful year,” according to Maid of the Mist Corp. President Christopher Glynn.
“From several perspectives, 2012 was another memorable year for the Maid of the Mist,” Glynn said. “Visitors from around the world continued to trek to Niagara Falls to board our iconic boats for a unique view of the Falls. We hosted daredevil Nik Wallenda in May, giving him his first up-close look from the base of the cataract during a live broadcast of ABC’s Good Morning America, and phenomenal weather during the spring, summer and fall also contributed to our successful season.”
A memorandum of understanding, the agreement between the corporation and the government, signed Dec. 4, allows the Maid of the Mist boats to continue to operate on the American side for the next 30 years.
The previous lease was set to expire following the 2013 season.
It also calls for the construction of a $32 million boat dock at the site of the Schoellkopf Power Station, an investment Glynn said he’s excited to make to continue providing tourists and thrill seekers with unparalleled access to one of the greatest natural landmarks in the country and the world.
“Our $32 million investment at the site of the former Schoellkopf plant will allow the Maid of the Mist to continue to provide visitors with an exceptional, unforgettable experience, for generations to come,” Glynn said.
So why is a boat dock needed on the American side now, after Mist tours have been operating continuously since 1846? The early part of 2012 wasn’t quite as nice for the Maid, which left the future of the tour boats in jeopardy.
It was Feb. 22 when the Niagara Parks Commission in Ontario announced Hornblower Canada Co. would replace the Maid as the sole ferrying service in Canada. The company, which was awarded a 30-year lease for more than $500 million, will take over operation in Spring 2014.
Hornblower, whose parent company operates Statue of Liberty tours in New York City and Alcatraz ferries in San Francisco, said it would provide two, 599-passenger boats, one rescue boat and $16 million in investments to the passenger loading and dock areas as part of the contract.
“This marks the beginning of a new era for all of us and it continues to build on what Niagara, and Niagara Parks, is all about,” Parks Commission Chairwoman Janice Thomson said at the lease signing.The Gazette is counting down its top 10 stories of the year through New Year's Day. The list: n 10: Tumultuous year for Falls air base n 9: Airport takes hit with Direct Air shutdown n 8: Lewiston Road's rough ride to repair n 7: Culinary institute opens in downtown Niagara Falls • 6: Gruesome mystery stuns Falls n 5: Child murder shocks the community n 4: Change afloat on the Niagara River n COMING TOMORROW: Chips don't fall as expected