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Full steam ahead

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Buoyed by an influx of state funding, fast ferry service between Rochester and Toronto is now on the horizon. Thanks to $14 million in state loans and grants --- $4 million more than ferry proponents had previously expected to receive --- the project is moving forward even without funds from Canadian officials.

            "To launch this project successfully, we do not need any additional Canadian funding at this point," says Dominick DeLucia, president of Canadian American Transportation Systems (CATS), the private company spearheading the ferry effort. "Additional Canadian funding will make the project stronger, but right now, it can be launched with what has been committed to us by New York State."

            According to DeLucia, a political squabble that threatened to delay the ferry's arrival has also been overcome. CATS has already made an initial payment to an Australian shipbuilder, and its high-speed catamaran is currently under construction. But without documentation from the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority and the state "that we're indeed moving forward," DeLucia says, "we can't reasonably make the next installment payment." The next payment is due by September 25.

            County Executive Jack Doyle initially insisted the RGRTA would play a significant role in operating Rochester's port and overseeing the spending of state funds for the ferry. DeLucia and others, including Mayor Bill Johnson, disputed this, saying RGRTA would simply be a conduit for the state funds, and the city would be in charge of port operations.

            In a September 12 interview, DeLucia said Doyle is "basically saying now: 'I may have misunderstood. Whatever we can do to be of help, whatever role we need to play, we'll play.'"

            Spokesmen for Doyle did not return calls seeking comment, but Donald Riley, the CEO of RGRTA, says the issue of who controls the port "is not an issue at all." He says Doyle was likely referring to language in the statute that created the authority in 1969 that specifies RGRTA be involved in the operation of harbors. Riley says RGRTA will "take direction from the governor to make sure [ferry service] happens," and leave port operations to the city.

            "The city, though, at some point could turn around and say, 'We shouldn't be in the harbor business,'" Riley adds, at which time he says RGRTA would get more heavily involved in the port's oversight.

            Speaking of oversight, an advisory board was formed in the wake of the announcement of the state funding and the subsequent dispute over RGRTA's role. The board, which will advise RGRTA officials regarding the ferry's funding and operations, is notable in that it will include three members appointed by Johnson and two chosen by Doyle --- ostensibly giving the city a greater say.

Meanwhile, the city is selecting a master developer for the 17 to 18 acres of land surrounding the ferry terminal site. Most of the land is owned by the city, with smaller portions owned by the county and a railroad company.

            The city solicited requests for qualification to develop the area, and received four bids. Unlike requests for proposals, for which prospective developers must create detailed site plans, the request for qualification seeks documentation a developer has the financial strength to lead a project to completion.

            Once a developer has been selected, "that entity becomes a partner with the city," says Fashun Ku, the city's commissioner of economic development. The city and the developer will then work together to design, construct, manage, and market the property, with a level of public input similar to --- if not greater than, in this case --- that of other municipal projects.

            According to Ku, the four developers that have submitted applications are Morningstar Development, a subsidiary of CATS; Flaum Management Company, the Rochester firm that developed Frontier Field, Bristol Harbour Resort, and the Center at High Falls, which it continues to manage at the city's request; Pitcairn Properties, a developer from the Philadelphia area; and Washington Square Development Company, a firm from Syracuse.

            Fu says the selection process will begin in late September. Once a lead developer is chosen, he estimates that development of the properties will be a six- to nine-month process. That timetable would meet DeLucia's hope to have ferry service up and running before the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club next August.

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