On cruise line, mayoral foes in same boat

Bell, Collins agree Toledo would benefit from Great Lakes tourism

10/7/2013
BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Toledo/Lucas County Port Authority chose to not try to attract business from a new cruise line on the Great Lakes offered by Pearl Seas cruise line.
The Toledo/Lucas County Port Authority chose to not try to attract business from a new cruise line on the Great Lakes offered by Pearl Seas cruise line.

The two men who want to be Toledo’s next mayor — incumbent Mike Bell and challenger D. Michael Collins — each has pointed toward the city’s waterfront as a key and undeniable asset.

They have disagreed on a multitude of issues, but the two men do agree on one: Toledo’s waterway needs more boats on it and a cruise ship would be great.

The Great Lakes cruise industry hopes next summer will begin a renaissance for that market. The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority has spent little, if anything, of its $283,000 marketing budget to attract Great Lakes cruise ships.

After a Blade report detailing the port’s dismissal of that concept, Mr. Collins and Mr. Bell, both political independents, told the newspaper that more could be done.

“When I read it in The Blade, that was the first I had heard of it,” said Mr. Collins, a district councilman from South Toledo.

“Originally, it was touted that the Jet Express would use Toledo as a departure, which never came to fruition,” Mr. Collins said.

The decision to not attempt to persuade a leisure cruise ship company to consider Toledo as a stop irked Mr. Collins.

“I believe the port authority should have told the city they were making a decision not to engage those companies,” he said. “I believe this fits right into the master plan of the city of Toledo. It makes little if any sense to me not to have moved it forward.”

The port authority has rejected invitations to rejoin the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition, a Kingston, Ont.-based group that markets its member communities for $3,700 to $7,000 in annual fees.

Mayor Mike Bell, left, and D. Michael Collins say cruise-ship companies should be pursued to consider Toledo.
Mayor Mike Bell, left, and D. Michael Collins say cruise-ship companies should be pursued to consider Toledo.

Paul Toth, the port board’s president, told The Blade he didn’t believe the port authority was getting enough out of its membership. He said the port authority dropped out of the coalition shortly before the national financial crisis of 2008, when it faced a tighter budget.

Joe Cappel, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority director of cargo development, said the agency’s focus has been almost exclusively on cargo shipments in recent years because the cruise industry never has regained the foothold it once had in the Great Lakes region.

Mayor Bell was not critical of the port authority, but does think a cruise ship could do well to stop in Toledo.

“I think Toledo should be a destination point whether people are coming by buses, trains, boats, or the air,” the mayor said.

“I will not say the port authority hasn’t done good enough of a job,” he said. “It is a little hard to worry about cruise ships when you have a $48 million deficit or a country in a recession.”

Mayor Bell said the Toledo Skyway Marina in East Toledo at the Marina District would be a good place for cruise ships to dock. The marina, formerly the Glass City Municipal Marina, opened in June, 2008. It shares its quarters with a marine passenger terminal developed by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which is to become the site of the Great Lakes Maritime Museum.

A new company called Pearl Seas Cruises of Guilford, Conn., announced on its Web site it is taking orders for a trio of Great Lakes cruises, as well as one that will travel between the St. Lawrence River and the Canadian Maritimes. Fares range from $5,000 to $9,000 for itineraries of 10 to 14 days, with 9 to 12 ports of call.

Richard Nachazel, president of Destination Toledo Inc., the city’s convention and visitors bureau, said he would like to learn more about the process of attracting a cruise ship company to Toledo.

“I don't think we know enough about it,” he said. “I would like to learn more, like, did they not come to Toledo because they were not invited or reasons that would make it impractical?”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.