Photo and article by Terry Duffy
Come this summer, look for the Village of Youngstown to make its mark on the lower Niagara like no other time before.
Two unique projects, described by Village Trustee Tim Adamson as, "The best thing to come to Youngstown in many, many years," debuted at Thursday night's Youngstown Board of Trustees meeting. They include a 1930s-era sailboat excursion and plans for a new jetboat operation, both envisioned to operate off of Water Street in the village. Collectively they represent more than $1.5 million, all in private investment to Youngstown.
Lake Road resident Aaron Dey led off with his Niagara River Cruises proposal, which he described as "a volunteer/not-for-profit promotional initiative that takes advantage of the village's nautical history and marine assets. ..."
"What we want to do is offer historical river cruises," said Dey, a member of the Old Fort Niagara Association, Youngstown Yacht Club and Youngstown Business and Professional Association. Dey is pursuing this venture with his wife, "Miss Jane." He added that proceeds from the operation would be devoted solely to the Porter Historical Society. "This initiative is engineered to raise funds for the Porter Historical Society and Museum, and further brand Youngstown as the wonderful destination it is, and will continue to be."
Dey said the vessel he is donating is a 1931-era Stone Horse sailboat, designed by famed naval architect Samuel Crocker. It was recently trailered over to Youngstown from Southern Ontario. Said by the Deys to be "the only wooden sailing boat on the river," its length is 28.5 feet and it offers a limited keel draft of 3.5 feet to enable use in shallow waters. "She is a beautiful representation of art deco architecture, with gorgeous curves and lovely lines that are the best in form and function," said Dey.
He added the boat has been renamed "Fleur-de-lis" to connect with the rich French history found in the lower river, Youngstown and Porter areas.
Dey envisions cruise offerings accommodating four to six passengers, which would follow a route from the Youngstown docks where he is seeking public dock usage, to a mid-river point around Stella Niagara. Cruises would be operated initially on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with possibilities for expanded day use, sunset cruises, even excursions to Toronto. Cost would be $12.95 per person, for passengers ages 6 and over, and the boat would be certified to operate in both U.S. and Canadian waters, and is U.S. Coast Guard-approved. Its power would be by sail or 9 horsepower motor on light wind days. Dey called its operation "very eco-friendly."
Beyond enjoying a pleasurable river experience, riders would be educated "as to the historic significant of this area, utilizing our natural waterways," said Dey. He stressed the operation is strictly a private, not-for-profit venture, and that it would involve no liability whatsoever to the village; all costs and insurances would be covered by his entity called "River Runs Through It." Dey said he's only seeking village permission for use of the public dock on the north end to provide for passenger boarding and disembarking. The vessel would be moored on a ball mooring at the Youngstown Yacht Club at nights and during non-use times.
Dey called his project an interactive, educational sailing experience. "It's not about making money; it's about promoting Youngstown."
For more information on the venture, visit www.historicyoungstown.com.
Next to appear before the village board was businessman Mike Fox, who is now leasing the former Petroy Marina on Water Street in the village, for a new operation called Fox Boys Marine.
Fox, who also operates Fox Fence Co., presented his plan to Mayor Raleigh Reynolds and trustees on what he termed a totally new concept in jetboats for the lower Niagara. "Anything that comes to Youngstown is a good thing. I'd like to get something going here. What we're proposing is some jetboats in the river," said Fox.
With that, Fox unveiled his Niagara Jet Adventures proposal - three new jetboats, 33 feet in length by 11 feet wide. Powered by three Cadillac LSA 550 HP engines, each boat would provide 1700 horsepower. Capacity will be 33 passengers apiece.
Fox said he intends to have his first boat delivered and in operation by late August. The boats feature all-aluminum construction, and are designed for use in Class 5 rapids found in the Niagara gorge. The boats will be covered and come equipped with both air conditioning for summer use and heat for the cool spring and fall months. Riders would also be able to traverse the vessels while riding. Their cost is $500,000 apiece.
Fox said the boats would travel the United States side of the lower Niagara from Youngstown up to the Whirlpool rapids just beyond the New York Power Authority's Niagara hydroelectric plant.
Fox told the board how he formed an association with DWC Boats, an Idaho jetboat manufacturer, which runs jetboats in the Snake River canyon and in river areas of the west. "I started out just looking for a boat that I could take fishing in the whirlpool," said Fox. "Next thing I know, I'm partnering with Niagara Jet Adventures," the new jetboat offering he's going to be operating with DWC boats.
"I got this marina for the jetboats," he added.
Fox said the boats "will be quieter, less intrusive and have less wake" than Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours operating upriver in Lewiston. He envisions a temporary floating dock-type embarking platform for boarding near the current gas docks at the new Fox Boys Marine operation. He said such an arrangement would be in use during loading and unloading and provide for better maneuverability for the boats in a contained area. "A lot of you folks who live there know that river fluctuates; I live on the river, so I'm concerned on how water changes could affect the boat," said Fox, explaining why he was seeking village OK for the temporary floating dock arrangement.
Fox told the board and meeting attendees the tour setup would be similar in type to Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, minus any Canada connection. He said this year would see a "soft start" of operations and expects to go "full bore" by next year. Operations would be seasonal, similar to Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, and the vessels would be wintered inside the marina, Fox said.
Village trustees took no action Thursday to either plan, but reactions overall were very upbeat. Mayor Reynolds went on record saying the village "supports the projects," and only the details need to be worked out, while Trustees Adamson, Tim Lockhart and Steve Suitor all said the proposals would mean great things to area restaurants and businesses along with promise of future economic growth. Trustee Beverly Van Deusen was absent.
Updates on these proposals, plus more on a plan presented Thursday by YPBA for the village to acquire an open riverfront parcel of land at Main and Lockport streets across from the Jug, is expected at the board's next session on Thursday, April 25.