Maid of the Mist stays afloat with state deal

December 5, 2012 Updated Dec 5, 2012 at 8:02 AM EDT

By WKBW News
By Business First by James Fink

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December 5, 2012 Updated Dec 5, 2012 at 8:02 AM EDT

The cloud of uncertainty concerning the long-running Maid of the Mist tour boats has been lifted thanks a multi-party agreement crafted between the boat operators and state officials.

In a deal that Gov. Andrew Cuomo helped broker, and announced during his day-long visit to Erie and Niagara counties, the Maid of the Mist will be able to store its boats during the off-season at the 59-acre former Schoellkopf Power Station site along the northern edge of Niagara Falls. The Maid of the Mist Corp. will invest $32 million in building out the necessary boat storage and maintenance operations and has pledged to pay New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation $105 million in license payments for the remaining 30 years of its state lease. That payment is three times larger than the Maid of the Mist Corp. would have paid under its former contract with the state.

"She was in trouble, but he saved her," Chris Glynn, Maid of the Mist Corp. president, said of Cuomo's assistance.

The deal sets up dueling tour boat operations in the Niagara Gorge as San Francisco-based Hornblower Cruises is set to begin operating boats from the Canadian side in 2014. Hornblower was awarded the Canadian bid in March by the Niagara (Ont.) Parks Commission.

From the time the first Maid of the Mist boats began operating in 1846, the Maid of the Mist Corp. had been the sole tour operator in the waters of the lower Niagara Gorge. The boats handle an estimated 2 million tourists and is considered one of Niagara Falls' top attractions.

"Even before there was a park, there were boats," said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.

The pact ends months of speculation about the future of the Maid of the Mist boats, whose contract to run from both the U.S. and Canadian shores expires in late 2013.

The boats, during the off-season, were stored in Niagara Parks Commission-owned land in Canada. Had no deal been struck, the Maid of the Mist Corp. was looking at scenario where it could operate its boats from the U.S. shore but had to land in America to store or repair the ships.

"It was very important to keep them operating here," said state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane.

The pay off, besides saving the Maid of the Mist operations, are promises to use the boats to fuel additional improvements to the Schoellkopf property, including developing nature trails and allowing the public to use the boat-lowering platforms as a summertime observation deck.

Plans also call for developing a rock climbing and rappelling feature along the foundation wall of the Schoellkopf plant.

"We are taking what was really a surplus parcel and making it productive," Cuomo said. "We are giving the Maid of the Mist a new lease on life, if you will."

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