By Joshua Maloni
No decision was made Monday on a proposal from Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours President John Kinney to install a new docking system on the south waterfront seawall adjacent to his company’s staging area. Upon hearing from residents and boaters – and deciding it's time to review WJBT’s existing contract – the Village of Lewiston Board, instead, opted to table.
Elected leaders said the issue is the amount of docking space presently permitted under Kinney’s 40-year lease – which Trustee Nick Conde said is 60 feet – versus the proposed 120 feet.
Trustee Dan Gibson said, “I’m not in favor of giving away real estate that belongs to the taxpayers. That’s my problem with this.”
Resident Chantal Tink said, “You’re gaining double the frontage.”
Kinney, who wants to use the space to parallel park three jet boats, replied, “It’s an area that’s not being used.”
She suggested, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t use my front yard. Does that give anybody else the opportunity to come in and build in my front yard? No.”
Tink added, “If someone came in tomorrow and donated $2 million to build new docks, we wouldn’t be able to.”
Peter Coppins, who’s married to Trustee Tina Coppins, and a member of the village’s Historic Preservation Commission, said, according to the New York State Office of General Services, “If you’re a New York state resident, we own all that. We own all of that frontage. The OGS gives the opportunity to the village to lease it on 10-year notes, every 10 years, to use how they feel it should be done.”
He explained, “Right now, according to the map, most all of Whirlpool Jet Boat’s additions and whatever he builds off of there is on state property. It hangs over and is built on it. We’re not getting anything for that. We should.”
Mayor Anne Welch said, “He leases from the village. The village gets (rent).”
She later said, “He leases the 60 feet from the village. If we feel it’s more beneficial to reconfigure it another way, that’s why we’re here.”
Kinney was asked if WJBT could park boats perpendicular, instead of parallel, thus taking up less docking space. He said he would not feel comfortable with “the entire boat broadside to that current,” as it could be “very difficult” and would require the installation of new slips.
“We don’t dock at all perpendicular to the current,” Kinney said.
As discussions turned into arguments in the board room, Welch said, “We are here tonight to listen to his proposal to extend that dock. He is coming to this village to ask for it. Nothing has been decided.”
She added, “I think what we need to do is sit down and renegotiate; just discuss this further.”
Trustees discussed setting a public meeting for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6, to review the WJBT contract. Ultimately, it was decided to make the gathering an executive session, closed to the community.
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours President John Kinney has presented a plan to install a new docking system at this seawall, and he has offered to gift the existing adjacent docks to the Village of Lewiston.
New Docking System Proposal
In the fall of 2020, Kinney was awarded an Empire State Development matching grant of up to $44,056 as part of the Lake Ontario Business Resiliency Program. He proposed using the funds to install a docking system that would better serve his patrons while also creating a “contiguousness” with the northside public pier. Pilings were recently installed into the south riverbed.
Architect David Giusiana, also an HPC board member, presented trustees and audience members with a dock system rendering. He said, “What you’re seeing – the big, backwards ‘F’ shape – is the current Whirlpool Jet docks,” which Kinney uses now, but has offered to the village for transient docking. “And then the newly built seawall” in between the existing gangway and the Neptune Ski Club slips. “What’s proposed are three floating docks that would be, essentially, 10 (feet) by 40 (feet). The jet boats would actually dock parallel to those.”
He said, “The docks would freely float up and down, based on water levels.”
Kinney said his docking system improvements would make the most of an area that’s rarely used, due to the distance between boats and the top of the seawall.
“I have the wherewithal to upgrade docks that are going to look and function better than what I have presently; and it’s going to match what’s down there in the waterfront,” he said.
Kinney noted, “There’s 120 feet of docking that would be taken by our new docks, and there would be over 200 liner feet of docking that is gained by utilizing the docks that would stay for transients and in a far, far easier way to dock.”
Welch said, “This was our plan, to put more dock on that side, but we ran out of money from the grants.”
Following the 2017 and 2019 floods, the village received $1.2 million from the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative Commission for a $2 million-plus waterfront restoration that saw floating docks installed to better withstand changing water levels.
Engineer Mike Marino said, “When we did the restoration, there was only so much money. There wasn’t the transient fingers down on that end. We were actually above and beyond the money from what we (projected), but we figured in the future we could potentially extend floating docks along that bulkhead.
“The river (level) came way down from where it was, so, certainly, parking for transient boats now is a challenge.”
“It’s not accessible,” Welch said.
A look at the existing WJBT docking area, and the top of the south seawall.
Thinking of the Future, Reassessing WJBT’s Contract
Trustee Coppins asked, “What happens if, down the road, we want to put the docks in like we have?”
“Can we get that back?” she asked.
Welch said, “Even if we were to submit to the state, it would take, probably, two years, at least, before we would be able to do anything down there.”
Coppins said, “Down the road, there’ll be a different mayor, different board – they may decide they want it back.”
Per the contract, WJBT is due to pay the municipality a base rent of $15,000, plus 1.5% of gross sales, for a maximum rent of $45,000 in 2023. Kinney said that would bring the total paid to date to $488,000.
Resident and former Deputy Mayor Claudia Marasco said that’s a drop in the bucket for a company that can make almost $3,000 on a single whitewater rapids trip.
The WJBT contract runs to 2042.
Following the meeting, Conde said, “There’s a configuration problem, there’s a dollar problem. The village will not be getting its fair share if it’s reconfigured. There’s nothing we can do about the old contract. It’s sitting there and we have to live with it. But if it’s altered, it should be changed.”
Gibson said, “I think the contract (length) is too long. I don’t think future boards should be corralled (to) a contract for 30 to 40 years. … That could be, potentially, four different boards.”
Deputy Mayor Vic Eydt said, “You could keep it the same, but splice it up every five years.”
He asked, “If we do take those (transient) docks, who’s going to put them in and out? What kind of shape (are they in)? We have no specifics, as far as any drawings, or anything like that. What’s the potential here?”
Coppins said, “There are some things missing on that lease that I think we need to have. Default notice, late fees when he pays us late; renegotiate the amount of money he’s going to pay us – because he is taking more area. I don’t think that’s unfair.”
Welch said, “He has been a very good tenant, and he has done well to the village. We’ve collected revenue over the years that’s helped the village. He has invested a lot in that property. As you can see, he redid that whole Griffon (restaurant) building (where WJBT has its Lewiston headquarters). He runs a good operation. He employs a lot of people. He pays the taxes. I think he’s an asset to the village.
“I hope we can sit down and renegotiate, and everybody walk away happy.
“The state owns that property. … We lease from the state. They give us a permit to use that property. That’s all I can say.
“Hopefully, we can come to terms, and everybody will be pleased with it.”
On Tuesday, Kinney said, “We’re very comfortable with where we’re at in this. We think that what we’re proposing is an enhancement to the waterfront, and it benefits the visitor to the Lewiston waterfront, the boater that visits the Lewiston waterfront. We’ll continue discussions.”
With regard to renegotiations, Kinney said, “I am going to have my attorneys organize the format of the meeting, whether that is in executive session or a public meeting. I will leave that between my attorney and the village attorney.”
An artist’s rendering of Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours’ proposed new docking system. Click to enlarge (PDF). (Image by Giusiana Architects)