By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — The Maid of the Mist will live to see another tourist season.
And 29 more after that thanks to an agreement signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and company owner James Glynn in Niagara Falls on Tuesday.
Cuomo and Glynn signed a memorandum of understanding between the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the New York Power Authority and the Maid of the Mist Corp. that will allow the company to store its fleet at the Schoellkopf Power Station site and continue operating from the American side of the gorge.
As part of the agreement, the company will invest $32 million into the NYPA-owned Schoellkopf site, which will become an attraction of its own. Along with improvements necessary for the storage and maintenance of the boats — storage buildings, a new boat elevator — the company will also enhance access to existing hiking trails, adapt the boat elevator platform to be used as a public observation deck and possibly open up the side of the gorge for rock climbing and rappelling.
The agreement also calls for the company to pay more to the state each year. The memorandum of understanding requires the company to pay state parks $105 million over the course the remaining 30 years in the contract — three times as much as it would have under the existing contract signed in 2002. In 2014, the company will give the state at least $2.2 million, nearly a 50 percent increase over the $1.47 million it paid in 2011.
Cuomo, who was visiting Niagara Falls for the first time since taking office, said that putting the Schoellkopf site to use and maintaining the relationship between the Maid of the Mist and the state is “just smart.”
“It’s going to be smart for Maid of the Mist, smart for the city, smart for tourism,” Cuomo said. “It’s actually going to generate more dollars.”
Cuomo said that tourism is an important growth industry for New York.
“Niagara Falls is a jewel,” Cuomo said. “A jewel that we haven’t invested in, a jewel that we haven’t given the attention that it deserves in my mind. But, it has phenomenal potential, not just for the region but for the entire state.”
Maid of the Mist Corp. faced the threat of having to shutdown after 156 years of operating in the Niagara gorge after it lost its winter storage facility for the boats along with the rights to operate from the Canadian side of the Falls. The province of Ontario awarded those rights to California-based company Hornblower Cruises along with the access to the storage space at the base of the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side as part of an open bidding process that concluded early this year. Hornblower’s contract takes effect in 2014.
Chris Glynn, president of Maid of the Mist and son of owner James Glynn, said his company is “profoundly thankful” to the governor for reworking the deal and allowing the company to continue operating.
“It boils down to this,” Glynn said “Governor Cuomo has saved the Maid of the Mist.”
Glynn said that his family has tried to honor the history of the boats since buying the company in 1971, but that their business was threatened by an “international process that was very unusual.”
The governor’s intervention has helped to ensure that the boat service will continue to operate in that tradition, Glynn said.
Mayor Paul Dyster said that he was excited by th eannouncement that the “iconic” Maid of the Mist would continue to operate onthe American side of the Falls.
“The state of New York has a long and proud tradition of conservation, one that began here in Niagara Falls in the 1880s with efforts to preserve this incredible place by making it a state park,” Dyster said. “Even before the state park at the Falls there was a tour boat operating at its base.”
The company signed the 2002 contract without going to bid and some officials have said that the rights to operate the tour boats should be subject to open bid laws.
When asked why the contract was not put out to bid, Cuomo said that it was a special circumstance.
“We value Maid of the Mist. We wanted to keep Maid of the Mist here,” Cuomo said. “We had a parcel that we felt could be better utilized for tourism and we put the two together.”