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Emanuel proposes big hikes in city fees for river tour boats

Tourists commuters line up for ride Wendelltour boat. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Tourists and commuters line up for a ride on a Wendella tour boat. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 13, 2013 2:37PM



Popular tour boats would pay dramatically higher fees for the privilege of docking along the Chicago River, under a 10-year agreement proposed Wednesday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“Tour boat operations along the Chicago River are a colorful and valued amenity for visitors to downtown Chicago,” the mayor said in a press release.

“This renewed partnership will keep tour boats floating down the river while generating significant revenue for the city.”

Wendella Sightseeing Co. paid the city $281,419 in fees last year for the privilege of using dock space on the north side of the Chicago River west of Michigan. Mercury Skyline Yacht Charters Inc. paid the city $169,000 to operate from a dock on the south side of the river east of Michigan.

The decade-long agreement that Emanuel introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting includes dramatically higher fees expected to generate $42.5 million over the life of the contract.

It includes a minimum annual guarantee for the use of the docks, an annual, 3 percent escalator and a 5 percent share of the tour boat operators’ gross revenues.

Annual revenues generated by Mercury are expected to rise from $1.2 million in 2013 to $2.4 million by the time the new agreement expires in 2023. Over the next decade, Mercury is expected to pay the city $30.9 million.

Wendella’s annual payments to the city are expected to climb from $877,000 this year to $1.2 million in 2023 for a grand total of $11.5 million over the next 10 years.

Both firms are expected to benefit from steady but slow improvements to the Chicago riverwalk that lure more tourist traffic. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley had big dreams of creating a San Antonio-style riverwalk in Chicago but never found the money to pay for it. He also talked about allowing Venice-style gondoliers along the Chicago River.

The search for funding to complete the riverwalk — instead of doing it in small pieces — continues under Emanuel.



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