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BUFFALO, New York (Reuters) - A new company will take over passenger boat tours on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, replacing the operator of the "Maid of the Mist" boats that have carried millions of tourists under the powerful falls for more than a century, officials said on Wednesday.
The Niagara Parks Commission said it named Hornblower, Canada, Co., a subsidiary of San Francisco-based Hornblower Cruises & Events, to run boats on the Canadian side of the falls under a 30-year contract.
A household name for generations of tourists, Maid of the Mist Co. has run boats at the base of Niagara Falls since 1846. The boats sail through the turbulent waters under the powerful falls, drenching the poncho-clad passengers on board.
Maid of the Mist said in a statement that having lost its bid to renew its Canadian-side lease with the Parks Commission, "our business, with a 165-year history of service to tourists from around the world, may soon come to an end."
"We are carefully assessing our position," company president Christopher Glynn said in the statement.
"Maid of the Mist" boat tours depart from both the Canadian and U.S. sides of the falls, and the company still holds the Parks Commission contract to run the tours from the U.S. side. It stores its boats at the Canadian dock.
Maid of the Mist signed a new contract in 2008, but the Parks Commission was ordered by the province of Ontario in 2009 to open the deal to competitive bidding following criticism of the process.
This bidding was the first competitive bidding process conducted since the boat tours began 165 years ago.
"We look forward to bringing our high-quality operations and guest service to the Niagara Falls region," said Terry MacRae, chief executive of Hornblower, in a statement.
Hornblower, which operates Statue Cruises in New York and California, submitted a proposal guaranteeing annual rent in excess of $60 million for the first five years of its contract, the parks commission said.
New York State Assemblyman John Ceretto, who has been an advocate for Maid of the Mist, said while he believes in an open bidding process, the Niagara Falls-based company's situation is "unfortunate."
"The problem is ... they put the boats in on the Canadian side and take them out on the Canadian side," said Ceretto, a Republican. There is no boat storage on the more dramatic and rocky U.S. side of the falls.
The 30-year deal is expected to generate roughly $500 million in revenue. Hornblower still must finalize design of a new vessel and has begun working to obtain site permits for a revamped launch facility and observation deck, the Parks Commission said.
The "Maid of the Mist" boats operate from late April to late October, departing every 15 minutes using two 600-passenger boats.
Hornblower's operations are slated to begin in the spring of 2014.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Paul Thomasch