|Hornblower will offer modern boats for his Niagara Falls tours just like they do for their far-famed Statue of Liberty tours.
|Maid of the Mist is a primitive boat tour with no seats and passengers packed like sardines.
|James V. Glynn
There is a real issue at hand here in New York and one that requires the closest attention.
It is the Maid of the Mist.
We must sound like a broken record, all the time talking about it; but there are millions at stake and it is a complicated issue.
First the facts: A choice will be made soon on the future of the Maid of the Mist boat tours in New York. It is the most prized and lucrative tourist attraction in Niagara Falls.
The combined ridership on both sides of the Niagara makes it the second most popular boat tour in North America behind the Statue of Liberty tours and just ahead of Alcatraz Island boat tours.
Now the bottom line first: New York State can reap a windfall of $2.5 million more a year from the boat ride if it receives the equivalent rent that Hornblower Cruises and Events - a San Francisco-based tour company that already offers the boat tour to the Statue of Liberty and Alcatraz Island - agreed to pay the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) in Ontario.
As an aside, it might be of interest to some to learn that Hornblower won the right to offer the Statue of Liberty and Alcratraz boat tours through a competitive bidding process. They offered the best deal and they won in New York City and California.
And they, earlier this year, here in Niagara Falls, Ontario, offered the best deal to the NPC.
Current Maid of the Mist operator, James V. Glynn of Lewiston has had leases on both sides of the border since 1971. He lost the lease in Canada – after losing in a bidding contest with Hornblower - and other companies.
And, commencing in 2014, Hornblower takes over in Ontario and will pay about 35 percent of gross sales as rent to the NPC.
Glynn pays only four percent on the US side and from this moist fact, that Hornblower pays 900 percent more rent than Glynn, one can see why the smart Canadians put their boat tour out to bid.
They upped their rent by more than $10 million per year, that is $10 million more than what Glynn was paying. Funny too, the NPC has been losing about $4 million per year in operations of its parks in Ontario and with one simple move - putting the Maid of the Mist boat tours out to bid – they solved all their financial problems. From $4 million a year deficit - with layoffs and deferred maintenance, the NPC will now have a $6 million surplus.
It should not be lost on the New York side of the tourism industry that that extra $10 million per year will help the Canadians in their competition with New York for tourists’ dollars.
In fact, it is a game changer.
Meantime, one of the great lies that has been put out there on the New York side is that if Glynn, and his brand of Maid of the Mist boat tours, does not operate in New York nobody will. Frankly it cannot be said more bluntly – this is a lie.
To prove it, the Reporter contacted Terry MacRae, the CEO of Hornblower. Try to remember we are not talking to a piker. This is the man who operates two of the three most successful boat tours in North America and is about to operate number #2.
He told the Reporter, in an exclusive interview, that he is willing to assume operations in New York so as to guarantee there will be NO interruption of services.
Not for a day; not for a minute.
MacRae told the Reporter, which, candidly, and perhaps a bit immodestly, we might mention, is a publication he is, by his own admission, familiar with, since it was the Reporter that first disclosed the sweetheart lease deal and monopoly pricing controlled by the Glynn enterprises on both sides of the border.
But enough of the past.
In a word, Hornblower is willing, going forward, to operate the Maid of the Mist or boat tours by any other name in New York and pay New York – and once again we have this as an exclusive – MacRae said he is willing to pay a rent more or less comparable to what the Canadians were able to get out of him.
Mark well what I am saying: MacRae offered to pay millions more than Glynn on the New York side.
This means that if we wised up and sought a fair rent, something that we are entitled to do now that Glynn lost the Canadian lease, Hornblower will pay millions more per year - as opposed to Glynn’s near zero rent.
Now, consider, Canada will have the big advantage. Do you realize Hornblower will be paying more rent to the NPC than the entire Niagara Falls State Park received from all its combined sources of income – parking, boats, souvenirs, concessions?
Canada, starting 2014, will be raking it in.
And we will lag farther behind.
For years, the NPC got very little rent from Glynn. Glynn always managed somehow to operate in secrecy and make his deals with local parks officials - the same men he had warm personal friendships with.
The expose, by the Reporter, on the Canadian side led to the dismissal of every NPC commissioners.
Think of that. The Canadians were so disappointed with the sweetheart deals these commisiioners made with Glynn that, once they were exposed, the commissioners were ordered to resign or were fired.
This is a matter of public record.
Indeed there was only one honest man among them – it seems. This is Bob Gale, the whistleblower who told us what was really going on.
Without him the Canadians would have lost $300 million. And while the Reporter gained glory for breaking this story, Gale was criticized for his whistle blowing. He was called a liar by the commissioners (now all fired). He was ignored by the Canadian media – until Anthony Reinhart of the Toronto Globe and Mail picked up our stories and started to run with it.
Gale was the sole commissioner who held fast to truth. And he made his people $300 million.
I estimate that by Glynn having sweetheart leases on both sides of the river, Glynn enriched himself to the tune of more than $250 million at the expense of the people of Niagara Falls.
We cannot weep or feel too bad for him as some maudlin souls in the media are fond of doing.
Of a man that essentially shortchanged the public out of more than $250 million in fair rent, they almost weep on the pages of their papers how the longtime and iconic boat tours might change hands.
They weep over the fact that his company has been in business since 1846 and now may end, betraying a total ignorance of the boat tours and their history and a woeful disregard of the people they are supposed to serve – not Glynn, but the public.
Glynn was around since only 1971. He bought some leases and started a new company, with the same name. Other people owned and operated boat tours for the century before he came. And others will operate it for the century after he is gone.
But before we conclude, there is another factor that cannot be missed.
Glynn operates very antiquated boats. He had no competition. He had no reason to make his tour exceptional.
There are no bathrooms on his boats, no seats, no dry areas. No evening tours, no downriver tours.
No timed tickets.
Not enough capacity in the prime of the season.
He has but one boat tour – it is 15 minutes long and, if you do not care to wait in line, first come, first serve, you will not take the boat ride.
Sometimes, during the short summer season, you must wait for three or more hours to take a 15 minute tour.
Hornblower, in Canada, is going to have timed tickets and more capacity.
If you book a ticket for 3 pm, you board at 3 pm. That means people who do not want to wait in New York will go over to Canada and ride the ample boats Hornblower will provide. And once in Canada they will eat in Canada and buy souvenirs in Canada and sleep in Canada and it is not as though we are winning the competition now, but it will be worse, when people go to Canada explicitly for the boat ride.
Now, there is no difference on either side. Once Hornblower comes in play, there will be a difference.
And there is more: Hornblower is going to offer better tours, better boats. Better service. Better everything.
MacRae told me he is going to have bathrooms on his boats; he is going to have seating; he is going to have tiered standing, so you can see everything even if you got on last and are not tall. The man knows how to run a boat tour.
“All the bathrooms, snack bars, flat screen videos and multiple language video tours, disabled access, all the modern features you would expect if you don’t have a boat that is 40 years old, we will have” MacRae said.
And he is going to have sunset tours.
In all the years Glynn had the boats he never wanted to bother with evening tours.
But can you imagine how gorgeous a sunset tour will be?
How many people will rush out of the US near sunset to get on Hornblower’s night tour in Cananda.
We have not the space to tell it all. Let it suffice to say that his boat tours will be superb and he will pay millions more to Canada and the dummies here are content with letting lobbyist and greedy businessmen rule while fools weep for the millionaire Glynn and feel sorry for him.
The reason, by the way, why Glynn must lose the lease, or at least have to compete to keep it, is simple.
He got the New York lease because he had the Canadian lease where the only docks are. That is why he avoided the legal requirement of bidding.
Now he has lost the Canadian lease and by the same, “what is good for the goose, works for the gander,”- since he lost the Canadian lease, he no longer can say – he has to have the New York lease - or that he has any divine right to it.
It must go out to bid, if New York can provide or build docks on the US side of the river- something that seems unlikely. And, if New York cannot provide docks, something that seems likely- then Hornblower will – using the same argument that Glynn used: since Hornblower has the Canadian side, Hornblower will likely have the US side.
Now see the difference between the two men. If Hornblower gets the New York side, which seems inevitable – then MacRae says he will pay fair rent.
It is characteristic of the man – and the hallmark of his success - that he will pay the people a fair rent.
That marks the difference between him and the sweetheart-lease-master Glynn.
All ofGlynn’s public statements are about him. How he can keep the lease; how he can keep the public from getting a fair rent through competitive bidding.
Now one last word: On paper, this should be an easy call for New York.
But Glynn is not giving up the ship easily. He has hired powerful Albany lobbyist Patricia Lynch to try and keep his lucrative operation going. She will no doubt attempt to buy the necessary legislators and perhaps even purchase the governor. Even though it makes no sense, in these tough budgetary times for New York to pass up on the opportunity to craft a deal that would sweeten state coffers for years to come, if you ever took a whiff of the stench of corruption that comes out of Albany, you would know why we get no rent from Glynn now and you might be concerned that they will try to crook up a deal to keep it that way.
But we will be watching.
The Niagara Falls Reporter will be watching and reporting every inch of the way.