LORAIN — Lorain Port Authority executive director Rick Novak is banking on more boating excursions and a new passenger terminal to boost ridership for Jet Express trips from Lorain.
A 5,000-square-foot building just south of the Bascule Bridge was dedicated Tuesday as the new home for the Jet Express, which offers trips from Lorain to Put-in-Bay and downtown Cleveland.
The new $900,000 ferry terminal will offer passengers an indoor waiting area along with restrooms, places to sit and an information desk with literature touting area attractions.
“We’d like to turn a profit this year,” said Novak, who emceed Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The high-speed boat’s trips to Put-in-Bay have drawn customers in its first two years, but it is the special excursions which have done well, Novak said.
Those trips have taken riders to Cleveland Browns games as well as wine-tastings and other events at the Lake Erie Island such as “Christmas in July.”
“We generally do better when trips are tied to special events such as wine festivals,” Novak said.
The Jet Express began offering limited service from Lorain’s Black River in 2012, when 785 people boarded the boat. That number climbed to 1,100 in 2013, and Novak hopes to top that this summer and fall.
Novak said turning a profit will depend on increased ridership and good weather, both of which would offset rising costs for fuel and other operations.
The 2014 season, which begins in May, will also offer beer-tasting excursions as well as trips to downtown Cleveland for those wanting to visit the Horseshoe Casino and other Cleveland attractions.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, heralded the new building as a tangible means of refuting the “rust belt” label long used to describe struggling cities of the industrialized Midwest.
Kaptur instead termed the area “the opportunity belt” as she addressed about 50 officials and others at Tuesday’s dedication of the facility.
Novak gave commendations to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, and former congresswoman Betty Sutton — who now serves as administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. — for their efforts to help make the ferry terminal a reality.
The terminal building was paid for with Port Authority funds and a U.S. Department of Transportation grant.
The Black River Landing development began in the early 1990s when the city and Port Authority approached LTV Steel Co. about what would eventually be the steelmaker’s donation of waterfront property along the Black River. The Port Authority also had to gain access to an old railroad storage yard on the land that wound up being purchased from CSX, Novak said.
Tuesday’s dedication of the $900,000 Black River Landing ferry terminal building came a year to the day after ground was broken for the project in 2013.
The new building will also house a renovated 50,000-watt lens that guided Lake Erie shipping for years from the Lorain lighthouse. The lens was returned to the city earlier in the month after the Port of Lorain Foundation negotiated a 15-year lease with the U.S. Coast Guard, which owns it.
For more information, visit www.lorainportauthority.com.