After 40 years, it finally may be over for Maid of the Mist boat tour operator James. V. Glynn of Lewiston, N.Y. The multimillionaire's fortunes sank like the Titanic following an expose on his secretive dealings with the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) published in the Niagara Falls Reporter.
The Ontario government ordered the longtime boat tour lease out to competitive bidding last year. Glynn never faced competitive bidding before.
At least six major companies -- each providing a minimum $10 million letter of credit -- have now put in their highest and best offers to operate the famous boat tours below the falls.
A decision was expected in April, but Fay Booker, new chairperson of the NPC, was recently quoted as saying it may take until summer.
Sources familiar with the process, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that Glynn will not be the high bidder and likely will not win the bid award.
The criteria for determining the winning bidder is not based on price alone, but on a weighted point system that includes pricing of tours, business plan, boat tour experience, financial resources, credit history, and marketing, reservations and ticketing plans.
The heaviest-weighted category, however, is rent paid to the NPC over the 30-year term of the lease.
These events all come following a sea change in the way the NPC does business.
All the NPC members who secretly aided Glynn by a long-standing policy of his paying less than fair market rent have been fired or resigned abruptly.
The NPC house-cleaning included chairman Jim Williams, general manager John Kernahan, vice chairman Archie Katzman, NPC business development director Joel Noden, and three other commissioners.
All had been named by the Reporter for their involvement in securing the secret lease that reduced Glynn's rent, while the NPC was losing more than $4 million a year.
The Glynn lease, had it not been canceled, would have seen Glynn paying a total of $81 million over the 25-year life of the lease for the fabulously lucrative Maid of the Mist boat tour.
Sources have told the Reporter that even the lowest bidder will offer rent exceeding $200 million. Some informed sources speculate the high bid will be over $500 million for the 30-year lease.
If the high bidder is awarded the contract, which is likely, the NPC will receive as much as $400 million more in rent over the lifetime of the lease than they would have received from Glynn.
The average $12 million annual increase in rent will triple offset the $4 million-per-year losses the NPC was experiencing. With one stroke, the NPC's financial problems will be a thing of the past.
Of course, it could not have been done without the help of two extraordinary men: Bob Gale of Niagara Falls, Ont., and William Windsor of Atlanta, Ga.
It was Gale who broke ranks with other NPC commissioners to cry foul when commissioners secretly reduced Glynn's rent without affording other bidders a chance to bid.
For Gale's whistle-blowing, he was vilified by the commission and ousted from his seat. Yet he stuck to his guns.
Initially the mainstream press ignored Gale, reducing their articles to mere "he said, she said," with more space given to Gale's detractors. None of them dug into the facts -- until the Reporter took on the task.
Gale has been vindicated. The old commissioners who savaged him have been ousted.
By the way, Gale had every reason to go along with the secret Glynn lease renewal. He sold Glynn the diesel for the Maid of the Mist boats, a lucrative contract he quickly lost after speaking out against Glynn.
The other man who helped restore financial stability to the NPC is William Windsor. Windsor tried to bid on the Maid of the Mist boat tour lease. He was refused the opportunity and was even accused of being "full of hot air."
Windsor took the NPC to task. He sued in Ontario courts. He started a campaign to expose corruption at the NPC. He worked with a growing number of people interested in procuring justice for the NPC, including the grassroots group Preserve Our Parks, and kept everyone, including this writer, constantly informed.
It created a groundswell. Windsor published perhaps 1 million words on the subject on his website "Rumor Control," and acted as a conduit almost daily for information regarding the invidious pattern of NPC officials aiding and abetting Glynn against the public interest.
Now the bids are in.
The Reporter has learned that the bidders, besides Glynn, are:
- Ripley Entertainment. Operator of museums and other entertainment venues, Ripley's is owned by Canadian billionaire Jim Pattison.
- Hornblower Cruises. They operate the first and third most popular boat tour attractions in North America, the Statue of Liberty and Alcatraz Island boat tours. If Hornblower wins, they will operate all three top boat tours on this continent.
- Tower Tours in partnership with Blue and Gold Fleet. Blue and Gold runs ferries from California municipalities to San Francisco, and operated the Alcatraz Island boat tours for 10 years. Tower Tours, a bus tour operator in San Francisco, is owned by Hagen Choi, who owns the master lease for Fisherman's Wharf.
- Alcatraz Media, perhaps the largest online tourism ticket seller in the world.
- Hotelier Dino A. DiCienzo and an unknown boat tour company, possibly Whirlpool Jetboats. DiCienzo is the owner of Canadian Niagara Hotels.
- Mariposa Cruises. A well-known boat and dinner cruise line that operates out of Toronto.
If Glynn loses the bid, he faces a serious challenge on the American side of the river.
As in Canada, he has held the boat tour lease on the New York side since 1971. Surprisingly, he pays no rent on the New York side. In a crazy, convoluted lease with New York State Parks, secretly signed in 2002, Glynn, who used to pay 10 percent of gross sales, was given the sweetheart of all leases. Instead of the tenant paying the landlord, we, the people of the state of New York, pay Glynn.
Still, Glynn's ship may be sunk in New York.
He procured the New York lease by circumventing state law, which requires open and competitive bidding, by making the argument that whoever has the Canadian lease for the Maid of the Mist must have the New York lease also.
Angela Berti, spokesperson for Niagara Falls State Park, told the Buffalo News that "no bids were taken because the Canadian agreement gives (Glynn) exclusive access to the river below the falls, making (him) a 'sole source' provider."
Consequently, based on their own arguments, if Glynn loses the bid on the Canadian side, then as a matter of law, he must lose the New York lease.
Just as the rent will go from $3 million to possibly $15 million on the Canadian side, it is likely that, through competitive bidding, the New York side's rent for the boat tour will go from zero to $4 million or more, helping to solve some of the financial difficulties facing the state parks system, which lost around $20 million last year.
Lastly, it should be mentioned that part of the weighted bidding includes points for creativity in offering new kinds of boat tours.
In his primitive, bathroom-less, seatless boats, where riders must stand packed like sardines, getting drenched even when the weather and the water are ice cold, Glynn offered but one 15-minute tour.
Bidders get points for new ideas, such as covered boats, dinner cruises, cruises downriver, longer cruises, nighttime cruises, seats and bathrooms, and also reservations and timed tickets.
Glynn always refused to consider all of the above, particularly to take reservations or have timed tickets. Anyone who wanted to take a Glynn tour had to show up and wait in line, sometimes for as long as four hours, for a 15-minute tour. Many people declined to take the tour because of long waiting lines.
With timed tickets, with reservations, with new and exciting tours, with much more of the lower river to explore, on the Canadian side at least a marvelous new day will come for tourists who come to Niagara Falls.
The Canadians have taken the first step: Improve the boat tour and increase the rent.
New York is invited to follow.