by Kirby Lindsay
At the announcement by One Reel, on March 31, to officially call off the fireworks display on Lake Union for July 4, 2010, Captain Larry Kezner, operator of the world-famous Ice Cream Cruise (and Seattle Ferry Service) took immediate action.
Reality Better Than The Dream
He can, and will, take passengers on his tours and charter excursions to Kirkland for fireworks, but “it’s not protected,” he explained, and “there is no speed limit out there.” At Seafair, Captain Kezner has contended with “some joker with a fast boat cutting a great big wake.” Lake Union simply provides less risk, and he couldn’t see letting the tradition slip for a year.
As Kezner started to call and solicit donations among other small operators and business owners on Thursday, April 1, chef Tom Douglas and 97.3 KIRO FM radio’s Dave Ross had kicked-off their own fundraising drive. This drive, which Kezner joined, raised the minimum amount needed ($500,000) by Friday, April 2.
Certainly the news can only help struggling tour and charter operators on the lake, and the numerous restaurants, hotels and neighborhood lemonade stands that depend upon the 4th of July display. Kezner had hoped to show Seattle that “us little guys can do it,” by raising the money among a large number of small donors. Yet, he is satisfied to know a large number did contribute “before the big guys stepped in,” to the KIRO fund. According to Kezner, “it’s almost like the little guys shamed the big guys.”
Saga of the (mini) Ferry
Kezner has operated his boat, the Fremont Avenue, from South Lake Union near the Center for Wooden Boats since being denied permits for his tie-up in Fremont. The construction in that area has hurt his tour business, and “the charter business is down,” he said. “I get my winter cash flow from things that happen in June, July, August,” and deposits haven’t come in, yet the slump doesn’t seem to deter Kezner from making plans for the future of his business.
In speaking with Captain Kezner, he doesn’t sound depressed about the slump – just matter-of-fact. When he gets talking about his business generally, he actually sounds enthusiastic on his pursuit of his dream of creating a mini-ferry service for Lake Union. He sounds downright determined, surprising considering the thick layers of regulators and restrictions that remain in the way.
Kezner sees that “transportation on the water just makes good sense,” for Seattle. He speaks enthusiastically about creating a mini-ferry service on Lake Union, “we’ve started the process,” he said of overcoming the dense thicket of hurdles set by City, County, State and Federal regulations (including shoreline codes, parks usage, environmental impacts, etc.) “I’m still ready to gamble that transportation on Lake Union is viable,” Captain Larry stated, and a great infrastructure around bridges and roadways subject to construction and disaster damage.
His proposal would be a mini-ferry service, rather than vessels that carry hundreds of passengers (and cars). “The frequency of service is more important,” Kezner stated, “than huge vehicles.” Smaller, more nimble craft can maintain a time table among his three proposed stops (South Lake Union, U-District and Fremont) and nine ‘flag stops’ – locations where the captain would only stop when flagged for a pick up or drop off. “As passenger demand grows, you can add boats without having large boats out there that create [maritime] traffic problems.”
Regulators, he suggested, should consider two successful models operating in Victoria and Vancouver, B.C. The Victoria Harbour Ferry operates in geography identical to ours, according to Kezner, as well as similar population, density and volume of hotels, tourists, and commuters. “I want to mimic the success they’ve had in Victoria,” he said, including having zero impact on the waterway.
In the meanwhile, Fremonsters, and Seattlites of all areas, can still enjoy a Sunday Ice Cream Cruise – and the opportunity to get on our lake and find out up-close the wonderful world that exists on water.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.