A new company has been chosen to operate the tour boats that have ferried sightseers to the base of Niagara Falls from the Canadian shore for more than 100 years.
The Niagara Parks Commission on Wednesday said Hornblower Canada, Co. has been awarded the land lease for the tours that have been run by the Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co. since they began.
The company's American counterpart, the Maid of the Mist Corp., still holds a separate contract to launch tours from the New York shoreline.
It was not immediately known how the American operations will be affected by the change on the Canadian side, which takes effect in 2014. American lawmakers and tourism officials have noted the Maid of the Mist boats are stored on the Canadian side because it has more space.
In a statement, Christopher Glynn, president of Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co., cast doubts as to whether to company would continue operating this year. He said the business of 165 years "may soon come to an end."
"The implications of this decision are very complex, and impact on many parties and create many uncertainties, including whether or not a boat tour service will be offered in Niagara Falls, Ontario in 2012," he said. "We are carefully assessing our position."
He said he would not comment further.
In choosing Hornblower, Canadian parks officials were swayed by the promise of higher revenues, including a guaranteed minimum of $67 million in the first five years. The parks commission, an arm of the Ontario government that controls the land and buildings around the Canadian falls, expects more than $500 million in revenue over the 30-year life of the contract, an increase of more than $300 million compared to previous agreements, the commission said.
The contract with New York's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, based on factors including gross revenues, gift shop sales and passenger counts, brought in about $1.5 million last year, the office has said.
The Niagara Parks Commission had approved a 25-year contract with the Maid of the Mist Steamship Co. in 2008. But the lack of competition for the deal drew criticism, so the commission called for bids from competing boat tour operators for the first time.
"It not only marks the beginning of a new era for all of us, but it continues to build on what Niagara and Niagara Parks is all about, building memories and creating experiences that will last a lifetime," said Niagara Parks Commission Chairwoman Janice Thomson.
Hornblower Canada's San Francisco-based parent company operates the ferries to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay and the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York Harbor.
"We look forward to becoming part of the community and working with the NPC to create a positive and memorable experience for the millions of visitors to Niagara Falls," Terry MacRae, chairman and chief executive of Hornblower, said in a statement. "We will work with the NPC to ensure a smooth transition and will be sharing more information in the coming months."
The company said it plans to build new vessels with more viewing space and will increase prices but keep them affordable. Current rides cost about $16 for adults and $10 for children.
The Maid of the Mist tours attract more than 2 million passengers yearly. They bring in a regular celebrity clientele that has included Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana and former President Jimmy Carter.
Hundreds of riders at a time don blue plastic ponchos to protect them from the drenching mist as captains maneuver the boats through swirling whitewater to within 300 feet of the walls of water crashing down from 170 feet above.
On the net: http://hornblower.com/Niagara/