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Thursday, October 23, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 5/5/2007

Keep Toledo history afloat

TOLEDO'S ties to the Great Lakes and the maritime shipping industry are at the heart of what this region is about. Water defines us. The shipping season brings lake freighters and foreign vessels to our riverfront and Maumee Bay docks, to discharge or take on cargo and underscore this community's enduring status as an important American seaport.

Those ties are evident every day at one of this country's most unusual "museums." This one floats.

It's the Willis B. Boyer, and it's tied up at a berth in International Park, almost in the shadow of the Anthony Wayne Bridge. Even though it was once one of the most important vessels on the Great Lakes, it's in danger of sinking.

Not literally, of course. But figuratively, the Boyer's status as the centerpiece of the downtown riverfront is in jeopardy. The City has decided its financial crunch is too severe to continue supporting the Boyer financially, and Paul LaMarre III, executive director of the museum ship, will lose his City position at the end of June.

Unless another funding source can be found, the Boyer quite likely will simply go away, sold by the City for scrap, bringing to an ignominious end the vessel's rich history.

Mr. LaMarre has proposed that the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority purchase the Boyer for a dollar and lease it back to a nonprofit board, which would operate it.

It's a proposition that will come with costs. Mr. LaMarre's salary is $50,000 a year and he has suggested an annual budget of $100,000. In addition, the ship needs work. Despite Mr. LaMarre's labors to repair and maintain as best he can, the hull needs major attention.

But federal money is available to help with that expense and a grant application for $300,000 has already been made.

As the port authority ponders a decision, it should keep in mind that other communities on the Great Lakes, including Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., which is certainly smaller than Toledo, operate ship museums.

Maintained and aggressively promoted, the Boyer would become a significant tourism draw.

It has to be the most historic vessel still floating on the Great Lakes today. It was considered the world's largest bulk freighter when it was built in 1911. A Blade headline from Oct. 9, 1911, proclaimed the Boyer the "Queen of the Lakes."

Sending it to the scrap yard as the boat's 100th anniversary approaches would be no way to treat a queen.



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