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Bids received for boat tours below Falls ; First competition for Ontario contract

A deadline to submit proposals to operate boat tours from the Canadian shore below Niagara Falls passed Monday, but the number of bidders and the names of companies that submitted proposals will remain secret for now.

Niagara Parks Commission Chairwoman Fay Booker said the commission does not plan to release details about the proposals at least until after the commission has made its recommendation for what company should operate the tours.

"Once we finish the evaluation process, we'll probably be able to do a bit of a summary report in terms of how many bids came in and who the recommended proponent is," Booker said.

The Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co. has held a contract to lease land on the Ontario shoreline to store and dock tour boats for decades with no competition.

Ontario's minister of tourism in late 2009 ordered that the lease be opened to competitive bidding. The decision to seek competing proposals came after months of criticism of the way the Niagara Parks Commission renegotiated its contract with the company.

The Parks Commission in August issued an 82-page "request for proposals" to operate boat tours below the falls.

The deadline to submit proposals, which had been extended several times, was 4 p.m. Monday.

Booker on Monday said the proposals had been taken to a "secure location" and will be reviewed by a group of evaluators who will work independently. The evaluators will later meet and make a recommendation to the Parks Commission, Booker said.

The commission is responsible for negotiating the terms of a contract and submitting it to the Ontario minister of tourism. The final decision, Booker said, will be in the hands of the provincial government.

Booker said she expects a recommendation for a tour operator will be made sometime in the spring but said the commission is "adamant" that the evaluators have enough time to review the submissions.

"We will not overly rush the evaluation process," Booker said.

Companies that submitted bid proposals were required to sign a nondisclosure agreement that they would not make public comments about the bidding process.

It is the first time in the Maid of the Mist's history that the Ontario parks agency has bid out the contract.

A spokesman for the Maid of the Mist, Tim Ruddy, said he could not respond to questions regarding the bidding process. However, he said the company expects to operate boat tours on both the Canadian and American sides of the Niagara River during the 2011 season.

Booker also said the Niagara Parks Commission does not expect the bidding process to affect the 2011 season.

"I would expect the current company will continue for the 2011 season," Booker said. "The actual turnover date, that's part of what the proponents were supposed to speak to in their proposals, so I don't know what a potential turnover date will be."

The Maid of the Mist Corp. holds a separate 40-year license with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to operate its boat tours from the American side of the river. However, the company stores its boats on the Canadian side.

It is not clear how the Canadian bidding process could affect the company's contract with New York State if it no longer held the right to store boats on the Ontario side.


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