The new deal between the state and the Maid of the Mist, negotiated behind closed doors and now the subject of a lawsuit by a rival boat tour operator, is a story that keeps on giving and one that raises many questions, from its no-bid process to the trail of political donations leading to Gov. Cuomo's announcement last Dec. 4 that was described as the governor saving the franchise and its famed tours from the scrap heap.
You can read in this week's editions about those political donations and the actual rent Jimmy Glynn's Maid of the Mist will be paying the state under the new agreement to run the boat tours, and even with the rent Glynn will be paying on the souvenir story and the Observation Tower thrown in, the total is still more than $100 million less than rival Hornblower Yachts was prepared to pay the state to operate the boats.
But there's even more food for thought on the whole Maid story when you consider that Mayor Paul Dyster and the Niagara Falls Historic Commission are on record as promoting the ruins of the former Schoellkopf Power Plant for the State and National Register of Historic Places around the same time Cuomo designated the site for the construction of boat storage docks for Glynn.
Three letters, dated in early December of last year after Cuomo rode into town to save the Maid of the Mist, clearly promote the Schoellkopf site for historical designation. The Niagara Falls Reporter has obtained copies of the three letters which were obtained through a Freedom of Information request by attorneys involved in the current lawsuit.
In a letter dated Dec. 7, 2012, three days after the Cuomo announcement, the Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Commission advised state Historic Preservation officials that after a review it found "the Schoellkopf site…a significant historic site because it is where the production of electricity as a commodity began in 1881; the development of cheap and abundant electricity fueled New York State's growth as an industrial titan. In the ruins of the power plant, there are significant contributing components of the original structure which gives a clear understanding of hydroelectric power at the site." The letter from Commission Chairperson Andrea Galyn "applauds the efforts" to advance the site for designation to the State and National Register.
Among those receiving a copy of the endorsement letter from the Niagara Falls Preservation Commission was Mayor Dyster.
A few days later, in a letter dated Dec. 12, 2012, Dyster wrote a letter to the same state Historic Preservation official, Ruth Pierpont, acknowledging receipt of a letter from state officials proposing the nomination of the Schoellkopf site to the State and National Register of Historical Places.
Dyster wrote that his office concurred with the proposed application, saying "the Schoellkopf Power Station site, its associated ruins and remaining structures, constitute a significant set of resources for interpreting hydroelectric production at the site and more importantly that chapter of the city's history."
In a letter to Chairperson Pierpont dated Dec. 17, 2012, some two weeks after Cuomo announced the deal with Glynn that would construct boat storage docks at the Schoellkopf site, the chairman of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, Thomas Chambers, called the Schoellkopf site "worthy of listing" in the National Register of Historic Places.
All this letter-writing promoting the site for historic designation was after the new deal with Glynn was announced by Cuomo and an agreement (MOU) was signed (Nov. 30, 2012) to clear the way for Glynn to invest $32 million into the Schoellkopf site to build storage docks for his boats on the American side so he can keep his franchise.
I guess when it comes to clearing the way for Glynn's storage docks, historic landmarks can be swept aside without so much as a peep from Mayor Dyster, who was on board with the historic designation at some point during the process. But Dyster's silence should be expected because he is rarely out of step with Gov. Cuomo, no matter the issue and no matter how it adversely affects his city.
The question now is whether Glynn and the state will be able to get the docks built in time to store his boats for the winter with the pending lawsuit from Hornblower and environmental challenges to the agreement in the works.