Some of the old Keuka Maid could return to the lake as part of a new tour boat under a proposal from Jeremy Fields of Candandaigua-based Fields Construction. Fields is so far the only person to submit an official letter of interest to build a new pier and bring a tour boat back to the south shore of Keuka Lake.
A new pier and tour boat business is one of the centerpieces of a plan to revitalize the Keuka waterfront. He discussed the terms of his proposal last week with the Urbana Town Board, though business details of the plan remain secret until after the July 17 deadline for other interested parties to come forward. Town Supervisor John Webster emphasized that the meeting was “not a negotiation session.”
Fields’ plan includes using the pontoons recovered from the old Keuka Maid as the base for a new boat, which would be partially constructed on site.
The proposed new tour boat would be licensed for 300 passengers, and the business would directly employ about 42 people. That’s not including possible new jobs from the catering work needed to serve the boat, since Fields doesn’t plan to prepare food on board. He expects to put about $1 million into the boat’s construction.
Fields purchased the defunct tour boat at auction and stripped it down after its former owner was no longer able to operate it. Former owner Robert Pfuntner ran into trouble in 2006 when he was unable to have the boat inspected to meet state safety standards.
Fields said the new boat would have no trouble meeting the inspection requirement, because the pontoons could be removed to be inspected individually. The design of the boat is dictated somewhat by state regulations, he said, but he’s open to consultation with local officials on the look of the craft if his plan is approved.
“One of the ideas was to put a real timber frame inside the boat,” Fields said. He expects the construction to take about eight months.
The town and the Village of Hammondsport are seeking competitive state development money to cover some of the pier construction costs along with other elements of the waterfront revitalization plan. The deadline to apply for that funding is July 31, but an announcement of funding awards won’t likely come until the end of this year.
Because of the timeline for the funding and the eight months of construction, its unlikely the boat could be operating next summer, Fields said.
One thing Fields said was absolutely required for him to bring the boat to Urbana was a 20-year license to operate, “with the option for everybody to get out at 10 (years)” if things aren’t going as expected. Webster said the town’s request for letters of interest referred to a minimum of a 10-year contract.
Though Fields is the only one so far to submit an official letter of interest, board member James Presley said he has had productive conversations with two other potential tour operators. Fields in turn said he is looking at other potential sites to operate a tour boat from.
The information sent out to potential tour operators by the town over the last few weeks has asked for someone to construct a new pier to the town’s specifications, and operate a boat with a capacity of at least 150 passengers. Webster said they’re still hoping to hear from more potential partners.
At their July 21 regular meeting, the board will select a primary letter of interest to include as part of the funding proposal to the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council.
The board also asked Fields how he intended to promote and market the business. He said he’d be consulting with the Steuben County IDA and other experts on how best to do that.
Webster joked that it wouldn’t be difficult to get press coverage bringing the old Keuka Maid, or parts of it, back to Keuka Lake.
In its final years on the lake, the boat and its operations were plagued with trouble, including the difficulties with state safety inspection that halted operations, resulting legal battles and the boat’s eventual seizure and sale.
“I suspect you won’t call it the Keuka Maid,” Webster said.