City Will Bid to Buy Ferry

Wednesday, December 22, 2004
(Photo: Monica E. Brown)

The fate of the Spirit of Ontario has taken yet another interesting turn. According to an article published in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, the city of Rochester is poised to bid to buy the Spirit of Ontario, which now sits idly at the Port of Rochester.

According to the paper the City Council approved a measure to turn the service into a publicly run operation, and it will try to buy the ship at a foreclosure auction scheduled for February 28.

The $42.5 million aluminum catamaran operated for just 80 days this past summer before halting service in financial disarray. The vessel has suffered the indignity of being arrested by the U.S. Marshal’s office over $372,000 in unpaid fuel bills.

The management apparently did not having adequate financial reserves to handle the problems. When the company was granted exclusive rights in 2001 to operate a ferry between Rochester and Toronto the company went looking for $20 million in public money to launch the project $10 million from the U.S. and $10 million from Canada.

They had already received a $22.5 million finance guarantee from Export Finance and Insurance Corp., an arm of the Australian government. The German engine builder MTU chipped in with $6 million, Austal Ships, the Australian shipbuilder added $2.1 million and ABR AMRO, a Netherlands-based bank came forward with $33 million. But it was the $20 million in public money that proved to be the most elusive.

What they got was $14 million in grants and a loan from New York State and a $1.3 million loan from the city of Rochester. No money came from Canada. Replacing that money from the private sector became impossible due to the chilled investment climate after 9/11.

“Right off, we had a $4.7 million shortfall,” said Dominick Delucia, a Rochester native and co-owner and founder of CATS. “I said we had enough money to get the ferry started but the project would be much stronger if we could secure some money from Canada,” Delucia added.

In its bid to buy the ferry, the Export Finance and Insurance Corp., an arm of the Australian government, has offered to loan the city up to $40 million to keep the ferry in Rochester, meaning no upfront public money would be needed to restart the service.

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