Atlanta-based Alcatraz Media and businessman William M. Windsor are jointly attempting to obtain the billion dollar contract for boat rides under Niagara Falls. The boat rides began in 1846, and there has never been an opportunity for anyone to bid to offer the service until Windsor took legal action against the Province of Ontario and the State of New York. This case is currently being handled by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice under case number DC 09-105JR.
The governments of Ontario and New York lease the park land on each side of the Niagara River to a third party so that boat rides can be offered. These rights in Ontario, Canada are granted by The Niagara Parks Commission, and these rights in New York are granted by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
The boat rides at Niagara Falls are one of the biggest tourist attractions in North America. Hundreds of millions of people have taken rides on the “Maid of the Mist” since 1846 and 2,500,000 people currently ride the boat each year. When Alcatraz Media discovered in October that the rights to operate these services on government-owned land had been given to profit-making companies for 163 years without ever giving anyone the opportunity to bid, Alcatraz and Windsor cried foul.
Windsor and Alcatraz Media originally asked for the opportunity to bid in 2005, but attempts were quickly rejected. Ripley’s Entertainment asked for the opportunity to bid in 2008, and their efforts were similarly dismissed. One of the Niagara Parks Commissioners, Bob Gale, filed a complaint about the secret process with the Ontario government. When Alcatraz and Windsor learned of this, they began working full-time to build public support against secret practices such as this since governments are expected to be fair, open, and to allow competition for such lucrative opportunities.
Windsor says, “Our calculations showed that these contracts will generate over $1 billion in revenues at a very high margin of profit for the lucky operator given this exclusive monopoly at one of the wonders of the world. I asked ‘how in the world does one company get the rights to such a pot of gold from two governments in two states in two countries with no competition and no concerns about competitive bidding?’ This simply isn’t the way governments are supposed to operate.”
When turned away again in October, Windsor launched a campaign using his web site www.NiagaraFallsBid.net. He has campaigned for openness in government dealings and adherence to the law ever since.
The lawsuit in Canada asks the court to void the lease and mandate a public tender because the policies of government entity The Niagara Parks Commission require advertising and a public invitation for anyone to bid on all contracts over $100,000. Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company Limited was awarded a 25-year contract in April under very secret, controversial circumstances, which goes against the aforementioned policy.
Last week, the Ontario Integrity Commissioner, Lynn Morrison, issued a ruling that indicates the bid of Alcatraz Media and Windsor is to be considered.
The legal action in New York is based on a similar New York State Finance Law that requires advertising and a public invitation for anyone to bid on all contracts such as this. Maid of the Mist Corporation was given a 40-year contract in 2002. “No bids were taken and no public hearing was held because the Canadian agreement gives the company exclusive access to the river below the Falls, making it a ‘sole source’ provider,” said Angela Berti, a spokeswoman for Niagara Falls State Park in a statement to the Buffalo News in 2008.
When Windsor became aware of this statement in a newspaper article, he began investigating. He first contacted all government authorities in Canada and the United States to determine if there could be any validity to a claim that Canada controls the water beneath the Falls. The response was unanimous: The waters of the Niagara River are jointly used by both Canada and the United States by a long-established agreement. Windsor then obtained a copy of the lease between The Niagara Parks Commission and Maid of the Mist Steamboat Company Limited, the Canadian legal entity owned by James V. Glynn of Lewiston, New York. The Canadian lease contains no such provision.
Windsor feels his legal action should result in a cancellation of the 40-year contract that Maid of the Mist Corporation obtained in 2002, and that the contract should be tendered for bids. A decision in the New York action could come any day.
While Alcatraz Media is the largest business in North America, selling destination tours and activities including over 800 boat tours of various types, this is a David and Goliath story with relatively tiny Alcatraz Media and Windsor suing two governments in two countries.
Ryan Windsor, CEO of Alcatraz Media, said, “When we started this effort, everyone said there was absolutely no chance that we would succeed. Those people don’t know my Dad. When he grabs a hold of something, he doesn’t let go. His efforts have resulted in hundreds of newspaper stories about this. The union of the government employees in Ontario has publicly demanded that competitive bids be taken and that the group of people who approved this secret deal be removed. The three members of Parliament from the Niagara Falls, Ontario area have all made public statements supporting our attempts. Dad has rallied the troops in Niagara Falls with a never-ending barrage of emails, faxes, and letters. Dad has become kind of a folk hero in Niagara Falls. It has truly been a grassroots effort. Alcatraz Media is overjoyed that we have a real shot at winning this billion dollar business.”
Because of the secrecy of The Niagara Parks Commission, including a secrecy oath taken by the government employee Commissioners, one of the battles has been that absolutely no information on the dealings has been made publicly available. Windsor reports, “Our attempts to obtain the documents needed were ignored. Employees of The Niagara Parks Commission were afraid to speak out over fear of losing their jobs. Then I received an anonymous email with a copy of the Procurement Policy of The Niagara Parks Commission with a note about other alleged violations. I believe I am now up to five ‘Deep Throats’ who have anonymously sent me government records that have enabled us to expose what has happened. The Globe and Mail in Canada, comparable to The New 1b70 York Times, hired a forensic accountant to review the terms of the secret new deal, and he reported that the government would receive substantially less from this deal. I publicly announced that we will pay double what the current operator pays.” Ryan Windsor said, “We believe The Niagara Parks Commission will realize as much as $100 million more by accepting competitive bids. Since they lost $4.3 million last year, competitive bids on this contract should erase the losses.”
For more details on this story, visit www.niagarafallsbid.net.
Alcatraz Media is the world’s largest provider of tours and activities, welcoming over a million visitors per month. They provide reservations for more than 10,000 tours, attractions and activities in over 400 destinations and 60 countries. The business was formed in 1999 in San Francisco, California and is now headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.
William M. Windsor is an entrepreneur who has started over 50 companies during his career.
For more information, please contact Bill Windsor by phone at 770-578-1094 or email.
Article source: www.niagarafallsbid.net