December 13, 2012

Editorial: Tourism help is available


— We’re gratified to see that Gov. Cuomo has put state money on the line to perpetuate one of New York state’s most prominent tourism ventures. Being in the heart of a tourist mecca ourselves, we would like to think that this initiative signals a recognition on the administration’s part that tourism is vital to the present and future of our state, top to bottom and end to end.

The attraction Cuomo has committed to is Maid of the Mist, the iconic fleet of observation boats that take tourists around and under Niagara Falls. It has been operating for decades to ferry passengers outfitted with protective slickers as close as possible to the roaring cascade of water that has been a highlight of honeymoons, family outings, literature and movie scenes for longer than anyone can remember.

The family that owns Maid of the Mist had a contract with the Province of Ontario for winter storage near the base of Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side of the attraction. That contract expires in 2014 and will not be renewed. The province has awarded its contract for providing the tour-boat business to a California firm, threatening to close down Maid of the Mist.

New York, however, will build new and more deluxe accommodations for the boats, along with a $32 million investment from the owners. In return, Maid of the Mist will increase its licensing fees to the state to $105 million over the 30 years of the contract, about a 50-percent increase over what it currently pays. In 2011, it paid $1.47 million.

The state will help build two platforms for a lower boat storage for the winter, along with floating docks, an upper maintenance area for a work boat and a maintenance building. That will include an elevator and a vertical marine lift for getting the excursion boats into and out of the water.

Hiking trails and a public observation deck will also be provided, and a rock-climbing and rappelling feature is also envisioned.

The company will also enhance the tourism venue by renovating bathrooms, developing a smart-phone app, offering online ticket sales and reducing wait times for boarding.

So the state got what it wanted — a solid commitment from the owners, better service for the public and a near certainty of financial remuneration. At the same time, it improved what has already proven through history to be one of New York’s most prestigious tourist attractions.

And the company gets what it needed — a guaranteed future in New York state.

This is the kind of outcome any tourist-oriented area would want to see. The North Country may someday find itself with a situation similar to that of Maid of the Mist.

It’s comforting to know a sympathetic ear resides in Albany.