The Norgoma may yet survive as a museum ship on the Sault Ste. Marie waterfront for another year.
At its regular meeting Tuesday, City Council, in the first of two recorded votes, rejected by a count of 6-4 a City staff recommendation to end ongoing City financial support for the vessel and pursue an "exit strategy" whereby the Norgoma's surrounding marina docks would be temporarily removed, the basin surrounding its stern dredged, and the vessel itself taken to a ship breaking yard.
That exit strategy would have cost the City between $200,000 to $300,000.
Voting to reject City staff's recommendation were Acting Mayor Terry Sheehan and Councillors Lou Turco, Steve Butland, Susan Myers, Brian Watkins and Pat Mick.
Voting to accept the recommendation were Councillors Marchy Bruni, Joe Krmpotich, Rick Niro and Frank Fata.
Mayor Debbie Amaroso, along with Councillors Paul Christian and Frank Manzo, were absent.
In a second recorded vote, the same Council members voted 6-4 in favour of a new resolution that called for funding for the Norgoma for a further year to be included in 2014 City Budget deliberations.
The resolution stated that 2013 saw an increase in visitor numbers to the Norgoma and that more time is needed to build and enhance a Cultural Corridor partnership (consisting of various historical tourist attractions) along the Sault's waterfront.
A request for continued funding was made to Council in a presentation by Norgoma Board member Jim Waycik (with added support from Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre Executive Director Mike Delfre).
Norgoma Board President Louis Muio, in a letter to Council dated February 18, stated that “excellent progress in the development of the ship” has been made over the past six years with City support, and that in 2013 there was “a large increase in attendance, and much more use of the ship for public events.”
The Norgoma originally served as a passenger ferry throughout the 1950s to the early 1970s along the north shore of Lake Huron, connecting various communities in the area with Sault Ste. Marie.
The St. Mary's River Marine Heritage Centre (SMRMHC), the group which now operates the Norgoma as a museum ship, has attempted throughout the years to make the vessel into a profitable tourist attraction, with the help of ongoing City funding.
Though historic in nature, the ship has been a financially challenged tourist attraction on the Sault Ste. Marie riverfront for decades.
The City had a five-year agreement in place with the St. Mary’s River Marine Heritage Centre beginning in 2007 whereby the Norgoma would receive $15,000 in City funding annually for five years, with the understanding the Norgoma would not be subsidized by the City beyond 2012.
However, in 2013, the City gave $15,000 in funding to the Norgoma for the 2013 season only, with the intention of deciding on any future City funding moving forward.
On Tuesday, Waycik said that in return for continued financial support from the City, the Norgoma provides summer employment for students, an historic link to Northern Ontario's past, a visible presence on the St. Marys River, and a component of the Cultural Corridor that runs from the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre to the Parks Canada site.
Ward Two City Councillor Susan Myers pleaded with Council not to "pull the plug" on the Norgoma.
Ward Three City Councillor Pat Mick said the cost of City support for the Norgoma was preferable in comparison to the costly exit strategy recommended by City staff.
Other Councillors, such as Ward Four's Rick Niro and Ward Five's Marchy Bruni, felt that ongoing use of City funds for supporting the Norgoma had to come to an end.