Tour ship captain says city is scuttling his operation

Nighthawk's owner told his dock lease is being terminated

March 28, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The captain of a popular Fells Point tall ship, the schooner Nighthawk, has been told by city officials that his dock lease will end May 1, which he said will force him to leave the city.

"It's quite a shock," said Martin D. Weiss, who has operated the tour ship in Baltimore for 15 years. "I'm quite upset with the city of Baltimore, who invited me in, and now they're pushing me out for no apparent reason. It looks like I'm going to have to leave Baltimore."

The letter Weiss received from the city's real estate office, dated March 1, offered no explanation for why the lease was being terminated. The ship docks in bulkhead space at 1715 Thames St., a neighbor of the Seaport Taxi, which is operated by The Living Classrooms Foundation.

John D. Hubble, acting real estate officer for the city, did not return telephone calls yesterday.

Weiss said he has tried to get answers from city officials for weeks. Finally, this week, he was able to set up a meeting for tomorrow to discuss his lease.

According to the terms of the lease, either party may cancel for any reason by giving 60 days' written notice.

Weiss said the 82-foot Nighthawk carries 3,500 to 4,000 passengers a year on cruises that include murder-mystery tours, afternoon and moonlight cruises, weddings and private parties. It has been in Baltimore since 1986.

"It's complete news to me," said Dan M. Lincoln, vice president of tourism and communications with the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "I'm not aware of Mr. Weiss' personal situation with the city."

The Nighthawk is well established as part of the Fells Point and Inner Harbor skyline, Lincoln said.

"We've got 13 million visitors, and it's a popular attraction," he said. "We certainly hope they can work out their situation with the city."

Weiss said he also operates a travel agency, called Nighthawk Cruise and Travel, to help provide income during the off season when he isn't doing cruises. But that business would not be enough for him to stay in the city, Weiss said.

The Nighthawk, which holds a maximum of 50 people, was built in 1980, a steel replica of a Chesapeake Bay coastal schooner, Weiss said.

Weiss, who sails the Nighthawk from April 1 to Nov. 1, is readying the boat for the season and securing bookings, but the uncertainty makes it hard to concentrate on those activities, he said.

"This is the worst time of the season for us to learn this," he said. "Everything is up in the air. I don't know what's happening."

Baltimore has lost several boats lately, Weiss said. The Half Shell, an oyster boat turned charter boat, went to Annapolis, he said. And the company that operated the "pirate ships," the Inner Harbor's amphibious tour ships, recently announced that it would cease operation after just one season.

"Things aren't going well in the Inner Harbor, in my opinion," Weiss said. "It's a tough business, because you can't operate year-round."

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