Wednesday, February 08, 2006


HMS Detroit project adrift

February 04, 2006

AMHERSTBURG - Its critics say the two-decade-old odyssey to float a replica of the Great Lakes warship HMS Detroit to lure tourists to this history-minded town is foundering in debt and depleted credibility, despite more than $1.5 million of municipal, federal, corporate and community donations.

HMS Detroit Project executive director Vicki Bondy fires back that a new master plan has been drafted, and more federal grants and corporate donors are being sought for the $3 million needed to finish the ship. "It's very positive," she said.

Hike Metal Products president Andy Stanton said Friday the HMS Detroit is nine months in arrears on the final mortgage payment for the vessel's metal hull, which was completed at his Wheatley shipyard four years ago.

"That has all been settled," Bondy said, referring The Star to the group's lawyer Arthur Barat, who did not return a call.

Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Anthony Leardi said Friday he will bring a motion to the next council meeting to have the group evicted from the municipally owned, historic building.

The group has occupied it rent-free for a decade.

Leardi said council hasn't received any information or financial reports from the group in the last three years that would raise hopes the project can be completed.

"It was absolute folly" for the town to have given the group a $710,000 grant in 2001, Leardi said. He said the town could recoup some of its money by selling the historic Gordon House on Dalhousie Street, which has been the project's headquarters.

Coun. Bob Bailey, a town appointee to the HMS Detroit board, wouldn't comment on the mortgage dispute. He agreed that based on meetings he's attended recently "there hasn't been a whole lot going on."

Prior to the town's donation, the project got a $700,000 Millennium grant from the federal government although that was later cut by about $160,000 because of its failure to complete the building of the hull by a Sept. 30, 2001 deadline.

Corporate donors included Casino Windsor, which gave $100,000. CIBC donated $35,000. More than a dozen companies gave donations of materials or expertise, such as the Ford Motor Company's contribution of 20 replica cannons cast at its Windsor foundry. Scores of local fundraisers have been held since car dealer Murray Kennedy came up with the idea of building the replica of the last ship constructed at the town's Navy Yard.

The website for the project includes a news page, but the last recorded event was the $710,000 cheque received from then-Amherstburg mayor Anthony DiBartolomeo in 2001.

Stanton said he'd rather have his money than take possession of the hull, which is stored at Dean Construction dockyards in LaSalle. Because the hull was been designed as a replica of an 1812-era vessel, it would be difficult to sell, except perhaps to an amusement park, Stanton said. He wouldn't disclose the exact amount owed.

Hike filed a lawsuit against the HMS Detroit Project in 2002, and claimed it was then owed $323,000. The lawsuit was settled with Hike agreeing to take a mortgage for what was owed.

HMS Detroit was supposed to pay Hike a total of $1.2 million for the hull. The $3 million still to be raised would add a wooden superstructure and outfit the vessel for educational trips on the Great Lakes. Bondy says they believe about 70,000 visitors a year can be lured to Amherstburg to see the completed ship or take a trip. During the winter, it can cruise southern waters.


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