Owner of Water Taxi decides against selling business to rival

Kane blames failure of negotiations on Living Classrooms

August 09, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

In a turnabout, Water Taxi owner Ed Kane says he is no longer willing to sell his 25-year-old business to the owner of rival Seaport Taxi.

"Am I going to sell? No, no," he said this week, less than a month after he said it was time to do just that. His change of heart ends, at least temporarily, talks on a nearly $2 million sale with Seaport's parent, Living Classrooms.

James Piper Bond, president of Living Classrooms, said he was surprised and exasperated: "We have been dealing in good faith with Ed Kane for many years. He seems much more interested in fighting."

Kane's decision stymies efforts to create a single water taxi operation in the Inner Harbor, a goal endorsed in a draft update of the city's marina master plan.

Kane and Bond agree that having two services is inefficient and confusing to tourists.

Kane's reversal also underscores his lingering sourness toward the nonprofit Living Classrooms and Bond.

The two men have clashed over the years, though Bond has insisted there was no bad blood.

Kane blamed the foundation in part for his decision to scuttle the deal.

He said the group did not respect his desire for confidentiality while the sale was being discussed and did not include him in a meeting last month with top city officials.

Bond said he did not publicize negotiations and regretted that word got out.

Also influencing his decision, Kane said, were 18 to 20 phone calls he got from customers and business partners after The Sun reported July 17 about the possible sale.

Two days later, Kane sent a letter addressed to "frequent floater, advertiser, friend and interested party" conceding that he had been engaged in discussions to sell his business but that he changed his mind. Kane did not send a copy to Living Classrooms.

He wrote that he is "getting older and cannot expect to live forever," but has a management team capable of running the business.

On July 12, Kane sounded ready to sell.

"I'm about to be 72 years old and am still reasonably vigorous, but I will concede the point that the sunset is coming," he said then. "There are other things I would like to do over and above the survival of my company."

At that time, the two taxi services were deep in talks. Andrew Murray, director of the National Historic Seaport, the Living Classrooms arm that runs Seaport Taxi, said it was finalizing a letter of intent to buy Water Taxi.

Murray said Kane went to Living Classrooms in the spring. "He approached us and said, `I'd like to buy your business, or would you like to buy mine?' We said ours is not for sale, so the whole discussion centered around us buying him," he said.

Kane said he told a "mutual friend" he would be willing to talk but did not initiate negotiations.

Relations have been cool between the two for some time. When Seaport Taxi got exclusive landing rights at Fort McHenry from the city for $1 a year, it wanted Kane to pay $1 a rider to land there to help offset its $150,000 investment.

Kane refused, and Water Taxi has been taking Fort McHenry passengers to a nearby landing and then busing those visitors the rest of the way.

Despite the occasional disagreements, Kane said last month that he was inclined to sell to Living Classrooms if it met his price of about $2 million. Murray said the offer was to have been "just shy of $2 million."

But Kane then got angry, he said, because he believed Living Classrooms leaked word of the possible sale.

He was annoyed to hear that Bond and others met with Michael Enright, chief of staff to Mayor Martin O'Malley, on whether the city would support a single water taxi service. City approval is needed because it owns stops at Harborplace and Fells Point.

Bond said Kane should not have been surprised. "All along we told Kane we were going to meet with the city," he said.

Calls came from Kane's sup- porters encouraging him not to sell.

Kane's sudden decision not to sell caught Murray off-guard. "We were negotiating in good faith and assuming he was," Murray said. "Why suddenly he does a full circle -- we're frustrated."

Asked if he would reconsider, Kane was coy. "No comment," he said. Then he added, "Let me answer it like this. Yesterday, I went out and bought another boat. If my actions speak louder than words, my actions speak for me."

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