Parent company cites economic factors
By Terry Duffy
At a Feb. 9 meeting, Youngstown Mayor Rob Reisman and village trustees announced Niagara Jet City Cruises (Niagara Jet Adventures) would not return to its Water Street facility for the 2023 season. The company was operated by City Cruises Canada, a subsidiary of the Hornblower Group based in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Officials stated the decision was based on marketing, and reflected tourism changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Reisman called the news unfortunate and a business decision made by City Cruises. He said that docking facilities would continue at the site, but did not go into specifics. Reisman said that, for the immediate future, the Village of Youngstown Police Department would monitor the riverfront complex.
For residents, news of the sudden City Cruises departure marks another chapter in the at-times rocky relations the facility has had with the village over past years. Criticism by locals has ranged from increased bus traffic to tourism impacts on the small village, including some unwelcome curiosities by outside visitors.
Over past days, residents offered a variety of comments online via Facebook regarding the news of this operation, which was formerly known as Niagara Jet Adventures.
“They never seemed like a good fit with the sailing and fishing community. Shoreline damage was also an issue,” resident Glenn Clark posted on Facebook.
“Buh Bye, I can't say I'm sorry to see you go ... I would love to see this Marina turn into a fully functioning marina for the lower Niagara River and Lake Ontario community,” Colleen Johnson Summerville wrote. “No more huge busses on Main Street.”
“Not sorry to see them go. Motorized thrill always seems to be environmentally un-friendly,” Garrett Swearingen noted.
So what happened here? Turns out, plenty.
Formerly known as Williams Marine, the Water Street facility was acquired approximately 10 years ago by Mike Fox of Lewiston, whose family runs the Fox Fence Co. It opened in the summer 2013 as Niagara Jet Adventures and was part of his then Fox Boyz Marine facility operations at the site.
Soon after, Fox introduced a new fleet of custom-built, advanced-tech Gatling series jetboats, manufactured by Bohnenkamp's Whitewater Customs of Meridian, Idaho – which would become part of this operation. A partnership with owner Christopher Bohnenkamp would follow, and the company began to grow and prosper. It joined its Lewiston neighbor, Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, in offering thrill rides on the lower Niagara River.
“The most exciting, yet most comfortable Class 5 whitewater thrill ride you'll ever have, is just a small portion of Niagara's newest, and most awesome experience. Take a ride today on the preeminent Niagara River jet boat guided river tour,” a NJA promotion stated.
At the time, Niagara Jet Adventures was known for the novelty of its high-tech boats and a rather unique trip on the lower river.
One interesting story involving the company occurred in December of 2013, when Fox offered a group of visitors a one-of-a-kind ride that saw one of his NJA boats travel up river, well into the prohibited zones of Niagara’s Class 5 upper rapids, and right into Niagara Falls near the Maid of the Mist docks. This thrill ride was not open to the public, but it caught the attention of Canada Border Services helicopters and U.S. Border Patrol agents. It would never be repeated.
Later, stories unfolded of legal entanglements involving a former partner of Fox at NJA.
He would then go on to sell his business interest to Bohnenkamp, who turned the company into a popular jet boat operation on the lower river. But Bohnenkamp would also go to become entangled in some legal problems of his own.
According to a 2017 U.S. Justice report, Bohnenkamp, who was listed in 2014 as the owner of Treasure Valley Marine Inc. and Bohnenkamp’s Whitewater Customs Inc., located in Meridian, Idaho, would go on to face federal charges and plead guilty to wire fraud.
The Department of Justice, District of Idaho, reported “In or about 2014, Bohnenkamp devised and intended to devise a scheme to obtain money and property from customers and material vendors of TVM/BWC by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises, and to misappropriate without authority money and property belonging to customers and material vendors of his companies. Knowing that TVM/BWC was financially insolvent, from May of 2014 through December of 2014, Bohnenkamp continued to accept orders and upfront payments from 13 new customers and parts on credit from material vendors. At the time, he knew that the upfront payments from new customers would be used to pay old debts and complete the boats of existing customers, not to construct the boats of the new customers or pay for new parts. In doing so, Bohnenkamp acted with the intent to deceive the new customers and material vendors.”
Bohnenkamp, who, at this time, ran NJA with his family and associates from Idaho, would go on to plead guilty to federal charges of wire fraud and bank fraud in April of 2017. He was sentenced to 63 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
Niagara Jet Adventures would go on to be purchased by Brian Price, a Bohnenkamp employee from Idaho who would take over the operation with his wife, Salise, in July of 2018. The couple went on to successfully run and build NJA in the following years.
Problems would arise, however. A severe flood on the lower Niagara River and Lake Ontario in 2019 ravaged the Water Street facility and resulted in costly damages and monetary losses to the business. The Prices had to invest hundreds of thousands to repair the property.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020 and continued into 2021, shorting the Niagara Falls-area tourist industry season, and hurting tourism-related businesses. The Prices would go on to sell the business to City Experiences in May of 2021.
According to a news report of the sale, Niagara Jet Adventures would join City Experiences’ “growing portfolio of water-based experience companies” and support the company’s overall business strategy “toward growing its product offerings for guests.”
“We are thrilled to include Niagara Jets’ whitewater adventures, providing our guests with the best and most unique products possible,” said Mory DiMaurizio, chief operating officer of City Cruises, Canada. “This one-of-a-kind offering fits uniquely within our portfolio of offerings and solidifies our continued goal to become the world’s leader in experiences and transportation.”
City Experiences would go on to operate the NJA business into 2022. It made the decision earlier this year to vacate the village and move on. City Cruises said it reflected the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and lower-than-expected tourism and business activity over the course of 2022 in order to sustain an operation in Youngstown.
DiMaurizio said Niagara City Cruises had not met the company’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery expectations in Youngstown and, as a result, it would move its operations to nearby Ontario ports.
No plans have yet to be announced as to the immediate future of the Youngstown facility, other than potential docking services. The former marina and gas operations would not open.