Return To Refrigerator Front Page
I Love Ferries

Jesus Tree
Subway Reemerges
Hojack Swing Bridge
White Deer
Sacred Heart
Rochester Logo
Romantic Radio
I Love Ferries
Civil War Stories
Thought Band
Genny Ice, Winter 2003
Find The Cell Tower
Garbage Queen
Donuts Delite Everyone

Garth Fagen Dance

No Swimming - Because

A Fast Boat to Rochester?

The New York Times

ROCHESTER, 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.

First, 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.

Ms. 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.

Her 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.

Ms. 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 space.

The 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.

"She's 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.

But 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.

"I think it proved my point," she said of the city's outrage. "There is nothing to do in Rochester. This is activity."

Though 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," she said.

It 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

George Jetson feel at home while flying his hovercraft. They interviewed homeless people and took photos of the food, which they found greasy. So there.

This sparked a new debate on whether the Rochester paper only "had a little fun," according to

Thomas P. Flynn, a spokesman for the paper, or "took the low road," according to Laura J. Hammond, president of

Rochester-Area 20-Somethings, a social group.

"Whatever happened to turn the other cheek?" she asked.

Tourism officials are hoping that the drama dies down before someone calls for a boycott or renames Canadian bacon "Freedom bacon."

Officials at the Tourism Convention and Visitors Association in Toronto declined to answer questions, saying the matter was not a tourism issue.
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 to offer.

"I 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."

Meanwhile, on Dec. 10, the ferry project took a major step forward.

The 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.

"I'm absolutely over the moon," said Howard Thomas, president of the Canadian American Transportation Systems.

As 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."

And 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 documentary here.

The Cat's second life is stronger, leaders say
City says realistic financial expectations, plans are in place
James Goodman
Staff writer, Democrat & Chronicle

(July 3, 2005)
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 around.

That's 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.

The previous owner of the ferry, Canadian American Transportation Systems, failed to provide that cushion.

Last 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

Lakes, to run the day-to-day operations.

A few days of ferry service don't give a clear indication of what kind of ridership to expect over the long run.

The first trip this year attracted 312 paid passengers, more than four times the number on the equivalent voyage last year.

Friday morning's trip to Toronto dipped to about 200 people but doubled to about 400 passengers on the return trip.

During the first five weeks of service last year, ridership was only 33 percent capacity on a ship that can hold 774 passengers.

Some of the passengers taking the ferry clearly want it to succeed.

"I 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.

Jim 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.

"It's an opportunity to showcase Rochester," Eileen Park said.

Ferry finances

From 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.

What's 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 default.

The ferry, which was given the nickname The Cat, was bought at a federal foreclosure auction in February for $32 million.

The 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.

Doherty 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 this year.

On a month-to-month basis, Doherty said, it will cost about $1.4 million to keep the ferry running.

The 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.

Tom 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.

"It 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.

The ferry can expect to attract tourism and be a boost for businesses in the area, and that needs to be factored into the equation.

"What is important is that we don't get on a course in which if it loses money, we declare it a failure," Richards said.

In the long run, he added, a regional body, such as a public authority that draws state and county dollars, could help shoulder any losses.

As 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.

City 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 year.

Ferry's appeal

Perhaps 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.

The Lake Express ferry, which is privately operated, has proved profitable, said Kay Collins, director of sales and marketing for Lake Express.

She declined to release any specific figures, other than to say that the service handled more than 100,000 passengers last year.

The ferry is smaller — built for a maximum of 248 passengers.

The Lake Express is especially inviting because it eliminates a sometimes-congested drive through Chicago to get from Wisconsin to Michigan.

A 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.

Don Cormier, Bay Ferries' vice president of operations and safety, acknowledges that the reborn ferry here will have to win over the public.

"There is a healthy amount of skepticism in the market. The only way to rebuild confidence is to be safe, efficient and reliable," Cormier said.

The 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.

Last 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.

"They are trying to experience something different," Palumbo said.

The Toronto Globe& Mail wrote this fluff piece

The 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?

The 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)

Ferry Bad Place
The 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.

Take 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.

For $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.

"That's why they call it the Garbage Plate," says Mayor William A. Johnson Jr., 61, who is no fan.

Don't 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.

"It's 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.

"You 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 hits.

"Only 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.

But 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.

Henry 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.

"The 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.

"I 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.

Rochester 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.

But 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 nothing here."
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 poorest neighbourhoods.
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.

High 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.

Two 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.

Today, 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.

At 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.

Cher 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."

At 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.

Aside 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.

"Then 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.

Not 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 Hots).

"Oh, we have no problem here," Joanne Middleton, the docent, insisted to the one and only visitor of the day. "The neighbourhood is fine."

Next Story