Fast Boat to Rochester?
The New York Times
Dec. 11 2003
The relationship between this city and Toronto, its Canadian
neighbor to the northwest, has all the drama these days of
two rival middle schools fighting over who's best.
Jan Wong, a columnist for The Globe and Mail in Toronto, visited
Rochester to find out what the city had to offer, because
this spring, a $42.5-million high-speed catamaran will begin
traveling across Lake Ontario, directly linking the cities
in daily 2- 1/4-hour ferry trips.
Wong came here with an open mind, she said, to find out why
anyone from Toronto would want to come to Rochester. During
a short visit, she said, she found out why they would not.
column, published on Nov. 29, had the headline "Ferry
Bad Place," and it got worse from there. Rochester, she
wrote, is "beleaguered" and "depressing."
Its main employers — Eastman Kodak, the Xerox Corporation
and Bausch & Lomb — are firing workers to stay afloat,
she told readers. Its homicides are many, its beaches polluted,
its waterfalls only "30 meters" high. Its food is
greasy; its love of a local grocery, Wegmans, is laughable;
its minor league baseball team loses a lot. And, oh yeah,
its former patriarch, one of the fathers of photography, George
Eastman, killed himself in 1932 when he was sick.
Wong had a few moderately good experiences, like attending
a concert at the Hochstein School of Music and touring Strong
Museum's Toy Hall of Fame, but her editors gave her only 30
column inches, she said, and those paragraphs were cut for
column made Rochesterians mad. They called the Toronto paper.
They wrote letters. Some insulted Ms. Wong's morals, her intelligence
and her ethnicity, all the while inviting her to return for
a second visit.
Rush Limbaugh in drag," said William A. Johnson Jr.,
the mayor of Rochester, who called a news conference to denounce
Ms. Wong and her opinions.
Ms. Wong was unperturbed. "What does that mean?"
she asked, adding that she didn't care anyway. She used to
work in Beijing, she said, and faced a lot worse threats from
the Chinese secret police.
think it proved my point," she said of the city's outrage.
"There is nothing to do in Rochester. This is activity."
angry Rochesterians contacted The Globe and Mail's publisher,
the mayor of Toronto and even the White House, the paper and
Ms. Wong were uncowed. Her editors were happy about the hubbub,
she said. "I think editors like to stir things up,"
might have ended there, but Rochester's paper, The Democrat
and Chronicle, accepted an invitation — or was it a
dare? — by The Globe and Mail to send a team to critique
Toronto. A Rochester reporter, Lisa Hutchurson, and a photographer,
Aimee K. Wiles, said they found — when they weren't
stuck in traffic — that the Canadian city had architecture
that would make
Jetson feel at home while flying his hovercraft. They interviewed
homeless people and took photos of the food, which they found
greasy. So there.
sparked a new debate on whether the Rochester paper only "had
a little fun," according to
P. Flynn, a spokesman for the paper, or "took the low
road," according to Laura J. Hammond, president of
20-Somethings, a social group.
happened to turn the other cheek?" she asked.
officials are hoping that the drama dies down before someone
calls for a boycott or renames Canadian bacon "Freedom
at the Tourism Convention and Visitors Association in Toronto
declined to answer questions, saying the matter was not a
Patti Donoghue, a spokeswoman for the Greater Rochester Visitors
Association, said she thought Canadian tourists would come
anyway. The exchange rate, at $1 American to $1.31 Canadian,
is better for Canadians than it used to be, she said. Ms.
Wong is obviously not a travel writer. And Rochester has more
love the white hots," Ms. Donoghue said, speaking of
a local brand of hot dogs. "When anyone comes into town,
I take them for a white hot."
on Dec. 10, the ferry project took a major step forward.
Toronto Port Authority agreed to chip in as much as $8 million
in Canadian currency for a ferry terminal, so construction
can begin there like it has in Rochester.
absolutely over the moon," said Howard Thomas, president
of the Canadian American Transportation Systems.
for the articles and the anger, "both cities have parts
that are less than attractive," he said. "But the
ferry will be a boost to trade and tourism on both sides."
that, as far as he's concerned, is the end of the discussion.
I was one of the doubters all along but the Fast
Ferry was a very cool ride. We took the ferry
twice, once under each ownership, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
We posted a photo
Cat's second life is stronger, leaders say
realistic financial expectations, plans are in place
Staff writer, Democrat & Chronicle
The second season of high-speed ferry service connecting Rochester
to Toronto is only four days old, but Rochester officials
feel that the chances for success are much better this time
because there's recognition in the budgeting that the ferry
won't make money right away — and $5.3 million is available
to cover cash shortages that might develop.
"Our aim was to give ourselves the maximum ability to
make this work," said Benjamin Douglas, a member of Rochester
City Council and president of the Rochester Ferry Co., which
was created by the city to oversee the ferry.
previous owner of the ferry, Canadian American Transportation
Systems, failed to provide that cushion.
year, ferry service started in mid-June and closed less than
three months later, with the private company citing a $1.7
million debt since the service began.
This time around, after buying the ferry, officials hired
a private firm, Bay Ferries Great
to run the day-to-day operations.
few days of ferry service don't give a clear indication of
what kind of ridership to expect over the long run.
first trip this year attracted 312 paid passengers, more than
four times the number on the equivalent voyage last year.
morning's trip to Toronto dipped to about 200 people but doubled
to about 400 passengers on the return trip.
the first five weeks of service last year, ridership was only
33 percent capacity on a ship that can hold 774 passengers.
of the passengers taking the ferry clearly want it to succeed.
am praying that it works. We need this. We have the beautiful
water of Lake Ontario. And this will help us with tourism,"
said Annie Curry, 62, of Rochester as she and family members
were about to board the ferry Friday morning.
and Eileen Park of Rochester haven't been on the ferry yet
but plan to ride it soon, maybe even this week. They are glad
the ferry is back.
an opportunity to showcase Rochester," Eileen Park said.
the start, city officials note, the reborn ferry has more
of a financial cushion. Edward Doherty, who as the city's
commissioner of environmental services has been overseeing
the financial planning for relaunching the ferry, said that
this time, the ferry won't have as large of a debt as the
one previous owners built up, and the money borrowed will
be repaid over a longer period of time to the lender, the
Export Finance and Insurance Corp. of Australia.
more, the new loan agreement with Export Finance allows for
Rochester Ferry to borrow up to $40 million, with the city
being responsible for the money being repaid if there's a
ferry, which was given the nickname The Cat, was bought at
a federal foreclosure auction in February for $32 million.
upgrades needed for the engine and other start-up expenses
have brought the amount borrowed up to $34.7 million, so that
leaves Rochester Ferry with the ability to borrow as much
as $5.3 million to offset any cash shortages in the future.
said that the plan is for the ferry to be profitable by the
end of 2006.
However, the operating budget presumes that the ferry will
operate about $725,000 in the red in 2005, with funds to close
the projected deficit coming from Rochester Ferry's line of
credit with Export Finance. The operating budget that Rochester
Ferry Co. approved last month calls for spending $13.2 million
a month-to-month basis, Doherty said, it will cost about $1.4
million to keep the ferry running.
budget had initially projected 276,000 passenger crossings
by the end of the year. But because engine work delayed the
start of passenger voyages by almost two weeks, the number
is now projected at about 247,000.
Richards, a member of the Rump Group representing about 20
business and community leaders who have been involved in public
policy issues, praised the city for saving the ferry and urged
the public to keep a broad perspective.
has a big economic impact on the region. It's not just for
the city," said Richards, a former CEO of Rochester Gas
and Electric Corp.
ferry can expect to attract tourism and be a boost for businesses
in the area, and that needs to be factored into the equation.
is important is that we don't get on a course in which if
it loses money, we declare it a failure," Richards said.
the long run, he added, a regional body, such as a public
authority that draws state and county dollars, could help
shoulder any losses.
it is, some regional attractions already get public subsidies.
Monroe County provides about $1 million a year each to the
Seneca Park Zoo and Frontier Field. The county runs the zoo
and owns Frontier Field.
officials aren't counting on the ferry to operate in the red
over the long term. To stay out of the red in 2006, Doherty
said, the ship would have to attract 366,000 passengers next
the closest parallel to the Rochester ferry is the Lake Express
ferry, which began service in June of last year. It crosses
Lake Michigan to connect Milwaukee, Wis., with Muskegon, Mich.
Lake Express ferry, which is privately operated, has proved
profitable, said Kay Collins, director of sales and marketing
for Lake Express.
declined to release any specific figures, other than to say
that the service handled more than 100,000 passengers last
ferry is smaller — built for a maximum of 248 passengers.
Lake Express is especially inviting because it eliminates
a sometimes-congested drive through Chicago to get from Wisconsin
round trip for adults on the Lake Express costs $85 and $205.50,
with fees, for a vehicle, compared with $74, with fees, for
an adult and $129 round trip with a vehicle on The Cat.
Cormier, Bay Ferries' vice president of operations and safety,
acknowledges that the reborn ferry here will have to win over
is a healthy amount of skepticism in the market. The only
way to rebuild confidence is to be safe, efficient and reliable,"
prospect of a renewed influx of Canadians to Rochester was
welcomed by Rick Palumbo, who is owner of the LDR Char-Pit
restaurant on Lake Avenue.
year, some of his Canadian customers were eager to try a white
hot for the first time. Others also took an interest in the
photographs on the restaurant walls showing the history of
the Port of Rochester.
are trying to experience something different," Palumbo
Toronto Globe& Mail wrote this fluff piece
Toronto Globe& Mail wrote this fluff piece (see
"Ferry Bad Place" article below) in their entertainment
section and it got a whole lot of people stirred up around
here. Who cares what someone up there thinks? I would assume
we stick around here for good reasons. Right?
D&C wrote some sort of half assed response and
then the New York Times picked it up. (see article
in the column to the left)
good news is that Torontonians are getting an exciting new
car ferry. The bad news is it's going to Rochester
Toronto Globe & Mail
Saturday, November 29, 2003
People in this beleaguered city on the south shore of Lake
Ontario are pretty excited about a new Toronto-Rochester car
ferry promised for May. For their part, people in Toronto
have barely noticed. That's all to the good because there
are several important reasons why Torontonians wouldn't ever
want to come here.
Rochester's homicide rate, at triple the U.S. average. The
car-theft rate is 2.6 times the U.S. average. Robbery is nearly
triple the national rate. Then there's the culinary treasure
known -- this is true -- as the Garbage Plate.
$6 (U.S.), you get home fries and cold macaroni salad, topped
with a cheeseburger or hot dog, all drowned in ground meat,
hot sauce, chopped raw onions and Day-Glo orange grease. It
takes a tattooed cook 14 seconds to assemble. It looks unpicturesque.
why they call it the Garbage Plate," says Mayor William
A. Johnson Jr., 61, who is no fan.
sample it at Nick Tahou Hots (slogan: "Home of the Garbage
Plate''). At this fluorescent-and-Formica joint, the cheeseburger
is as dry as a cracker and the grease pools at the bottom
of the paper plate.
supposed to be greasy," says the skinny cashier, who
appears to eat elsewhere.
Nick's used to be open all night until it hosted one too many
shootouts. Located on West Main Street, it's a quick but perilous
walk from the mayor's office, past a homeless shelter, shuttered
businesses and a high school for troubled youths.
walked there?" Mr. Johnson says. "I wouldn't walk
there. Don't go there again. If you had made a wrong turn,
you would have been in no man's land." He pulls out sheets
of statistics. Rochester's homicide rate, at 17.4 per 100,000,
is double New York City's.
In 2001, Rochester had 39 homicides, mostly execution-style
a couple of times a year, a purely innocent person gets shot,"
the mayor says.
He dreamed up the ferry idea in 1995, a year after he took
office. He thought tourism might halt the city's decline.
Conjuring up a vision of Torontonians streaming across Lake
Ontario, he persuaded New York state to kick in $14-million
toward a ferry service.
Currently, the $42.5-million (U.S.) high-speed catamaran is
out of dry dock in Perth, Australia. At the Rochester harbour,
a 30-minute drive from downtown, work crews are rushing to
convert an abandoned warehouse into a terminal.
neither side has received approval from customs and immigration
authorities. And construction hasn't even begun in Toronto.
"I'm in the dark as to exactly what kind of structure
they're talking about," says Mr. Johnson, who has heard
rumours that Toronto's terminal might be a concrete pad covered
by a tent.
Pankratz, Toronto Port Authority chairman, didn't return calls.
Nor did Dominick DeLucia or Howard Thomas, executives at the
ferry company, Canadian American Transportation Systems.
last I heard they wanted somebody else to put in money,"
says Joe Pantalone, a Toronto city councillor who chairs the
municipal waterfront group.
In a sign of how few tourists come to Rochester, rooms at
Microtel Inn & Suites cost $39.95.
get the stupidest calls from the stupidest people," the
desk clerk complained to a room attendant the other morning.
"Like, 'How big are your rooms?' " In fact, Microtel
has queen beds and full baths, and includes continental breakfast,
free local calls, cable TV and the morning paper.
would be a bargain, except that Air Canada charges nearly
$900 round-trip for a 25-minute flight. (Advance bookings
are $387, with a $150 penalty for any change.) By car, the
trip via Buffalo takes about 31⁄2 hours, plus gas and
tolls. In contrast, the thrice-daily ferry will cost $40 (U.S.)
per car, plus $20 per passenger, or $28 for walk-ons. Shore
to shore, the trip takes 21⁄2 hours, an estimate that
doesn't include customs and immigration checks.
such comparisons miss the point, according to Carol Miller,
a retired hospital worker (and my cousin-in-law), who has
lived in Rochester her whole life. "What do they expect
people from Toronto to do when they come here? There is so
Hers is a typical Rochesterian psyche, less civic boosterism
than civic dumpsterism. Indeed, last June a number of local
organizations offered a "Reality Tour" of the city's
Ms. Miller offers her own blightseeing tour. At the ferry
docks, she points out abandoned buildings. "The beach
is polluted," she says over the roar of front-loaders.
Later, she drives her family van over potholed streets to
the downtown core. Here, on the Genesee River, is Rochester's
star attraction: a 30-metre waterfall.
Falls is no Niagara Falls, but it did power Rochester's first
flour mills. On this sunny November day, the footbridge is
deserted. "I hate to tell you this, but it's like this
in the summer, too," Ms. Miller says. "To be honest,
I wouldn't come here day or night alone."
Downtown, all-day parking is $3. A nearby heritage building
is vacant, with smashed windows and torn plastic sheeting.
Traffic is so sparse it's unnecessary to look left or right
when crossing the street. But pretensions to a bygone era
remain: no-left-turn signs on every downtown corner.
hundred years ago, High Falls made Rochester the largest flour-milling
city in the world. A hundred years ago, George Eastman invented
the 10-cent flexible film roll and the $1 Brownie camera here.
His 50-room mansion, which now houses a museum of photography,
is the city's only five-star attraction. In 1932, at the age
of 77, the lifelong bachelor declared his life's work done
and shot himself in an upstairs bedroom.
Rochester's decline can be traced to governor Thomas E. Dewey.
In 1948, Rochester voted against him when he ran for president,
ensuring he lost the state -- and the White House. Two years
later, Mr. Dewey saw to it that Interstate 90 bypassed Rochester
on its way from Buffalo to Syracuse.
digital technology has slashed employment at Eastman Kodak
Co. to 21,000 from a high of 60,000 in 1982. Two other main
employers, Xerox Corp. and Bausch & Lomb Inc., have also
cut jobs. In the past decade, Rochester's population has shrunk
6.3 per cent to 220,000 (Greater Rochester has about a million)
and taxable city property values have plunged 15.3 per cent.
It now ranks 173rd among the nation's 200 largest metropolitan
areas in terms of job creation and economic performance.
the end of a depressing tour, Ms. Miller is pressed for a
genuine Rochester attraction. She suggests Wegmans, a supermarket.
Don't laugh. "It's the store where I take my relatives
and out-of-town visitors," Neil Stern, a food-industry
analyst, told The New York Times.
went there this summer. Wearing dark glasses and a cowboy
hat, she signed autographs and cooed to the manager, Bill
Congdon, "I'd love for you to build one of these stores
in Malibu where I live."
130,000 square feet, the Pittsford Plaza Wegmans offers a
caviar bar, a kosher deli that authentically boils the bagels
before baking, and a less authentic Chinese buffet. The fish
department cooks to order, free. The flower department has
a five-day guarantee on roses. You can hook your latte cup
onto your shopping cart. Your toddler can "drive"
a red plastic car also hooked, yes, to your shopping cart.
from gargantuan restaurant portions -- the Scotch N Sirloin
offers 48-ounce slabs of prime rib, Nick Tahou Hots sells
42-ounce drinks -- everything in Rochester seems to be disappearing.
Downtown's revolving restaurant has closed. The nightly laser
show at High Falls has been mostly discontinued. Even the
Red Wings baseball team had five consecutive losing seasons,
including, in 2002, its worst in 23 years.
they moved the team to Ottawa, and immediately it got better,"
says Mr. Johnson, who himself was trounced this month in a
race for county manager.
surprisingly, Rochesterians prefer to look to the past. Visitors
are told to go to Mount Hope Cemetery, where Frederick Douglass,
the slavery abolitionist, and Susan B. Anthony, the women's
suffrage leader, are buried. Her home is another attraction,
but everyone from cab drivers to Ms. Miller to the mayor warned
against venturing into the neighbourhood (just past Nick Tahou
we have no problem here," Joanne Middleton, the docent,
insisted to the one and only visitor of the day. "The
neighbourhood is fine."