Fells Point schooner Nighthawk gets old lease on life

City suspends bid to revoke lease on Thames St. dock

April 04, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The Inner Harbor Task Force yesterday suspended action that would have evicted the Fells Point schooner Nighthawk from its dock space in May.

But the group also agreed to review the Nighthawk's Thames Street lease and other dock leases.

"I'm glad we seem to have made progress on this, and I won't have to leave in a couple weeks," said Capt. Martin D. Weiss, who has operated the boat in Baltimore for 15 years. "It seems like things are going to work out. ... Baltimore Harbor is big enough for all of us."

The task force, which is under the Department of Public Works and oversees events and issues related to the Inner Harbor, plans to discuss leases again at its next meeting, May 15.

"The committee here wanted to see them stay in business," said John D. Hubble, acting real estate officer. "We all want to see them stay in business, but we don't want the safety issues."

Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, vice president/development for Living Classrooms Foundation, told the group about several accidents last summer in which the Seaport Taxi, which the foundation operates, hit the Nighthawk and other boats docked nearby because maneuvering space is tight.

"We certainly don't want to drive anybody out of that space," Cunningham said. "[But] we can't operate safely in the space that's left."

A spokeswoman for the Nighthawk said safety issues have become a concern only recently.

"In the dozen years prior to the Seaport Taxi taking over, Harbor Shuttle never had any safety issues that we were aware of," said Kirsten Blom, director of travel for Nighthawk Cruises and Travel. "But just since they took over, there have been at least three incidents involving docked boats on the same weekend."

In one incident, on June 25, a Seaport Taxi struck the starboard side of the Nighthawk, causing $2,104 in damages, according to Weiss. The same weekend a Seaport Taxi also struck two other docked boats, Weiss said.

Living Classrooms bought the Harbor Shuttle boats and changed the name to Seaport Taxi in April 2000.

The congestion is a problem only on weekends and during special events, Cunningham said. He blamed the problem, at least in part, on overlapping leases granted by the city.

Weiss has renewed his lease with the city, due to expire in October, for another five years. But the terms of the lease allow either party to cancel by giving 60-days notice. Weiss pays $450 a month for the lease, plus taxes on tickets.

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.

The schooner, which holds a maximum of 50 people, sails from April 1 to Nov. 1. Built in 1980, it is a steel replica of a Chesapeake Bay coastal schooner.

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