With its historic canal system facing another abbreviated boating season this year, the state is offering $2.5 million for outside ideas on how the canals can attract more business and tourism.
This year, the 525-mile canal system that connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean will have a 145- to 148-day season, about the same as last year, and much less than previous seasons that lasted about 200 days.
The eastern portion of the Erie Canal is set to open May 15, with the rest of the canals to open three days later. The entire system is to close Oct 10. This slices about two weeks off the traditional start of the season, and more than a month off the usual end.
This year, as last, the Canal Corp. is again waiving the $25 fee for recreational boaters. The system also includes the Champlain, Cayuga-Seneca, and Oswego canals.
Last year, some boaters, marinas and businesses said the shortened season caused some events to be canceled or resulted in lost business. Canal officials said the closure was needed to assist crews perform needed repairs to aging canal infrastructure earlier in the fall.
The canal's 2018-2021 capital spending plan, filed in December, calls for about $40 million each year to be spent on upgrading the canals.
That plan also said the canal was facing challenges. According to the plan, the Power Authority "has identified key risk areas relating to the Canal Corporation and continues to employ and assess risk mitigation options across multiple enterprise risk fronts in an effort to manage or reduce potential exposures. As more actual experience, information and data becomes available, the authority will adjust and allocate resources accordingly."
No one from the Power Authority could offer clarification to the Times Union on what issues that language was describing.
And this year, the Canal Corp. is holding a $2.5 million competition for ideas on how to make the system, which in recent years has not been able to cover its own expenses, into a more financially viable and vibrant operation.
More than 145 entries have been submitted, representing nine countries and nine states; finalists will be chosen in April, said Steve Gosset, a spokesman for the New York Power Authority, which oversees the canal system.
The contest is seeking "visionary, implementable concepts and initiatives that promote the canal system's heritage, foster economic development and tourism, and improve the canal system's long-term financial sustainability." Commercial use of the canal has declined drastically in recent years.
Winners will selected by a panel that includes Carol Ash, vice chairwoman of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission; Holly Leicht, an executive vice president at Empire State Development; Steve Dunlop, chief executive of the Scottish national canal system; Darlene Upton, a vice president in Parks Canada; Richard Larrabee, a former executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Hugh O'Neill, president of the development consulting firm of Appleseed; and Mia Lehrer, president of Studio-MLA, a Los Angeles-based design firm.