It was a slow day last Monday at Bill’s Pizza on Commercial Street in Portland when the order came in for 100 pizza pies. The address: the Nova Star ferry at the Ocean Gateway terminal.
It took three vehicles to deliver the pizza: dinner for the crew while the ferry’s kitchen was being sanitized after the removal of provisions the ferry had brought last month from Singapore.
“We drove the trucks right into the boat, hopped into the elevator and brought all 100 pizzas up to the fourth floor,” said John Bergeron, the restaurant’s owner.
The extra business for Bill’s Pizza is just one example of the economic ripple effects the new ferry is already having in the Portland area.
Over on India Street, Two Fat Cats Bakery got a bigger order: 800 pastries to be delivered to the terminal by 6 p.m. Thursday for the ferry’s maiden voyage to Nova Scotia. Even better, the bakery won the contract to deliver about that many pastries every day until the ferry season ends Oct. 31.
The bakery has tripled production and is working nearly around the clock to make the daily order, said general manager Emily Joy.
“We are all hands on deck,” she said. “Hopefully, we can keep up with the demand.”
The Nova Scotia government has committed to spending $21 million over seven years to subsidize the new ferry service so it will bring more American tourists to the province.
Many of those tourists are also expected to spend money in Portland. And unlike cruise ships, which haul their own provisions, the Nova Star will use Portland as its home port. That means Portland-area vendors will be supplying fuel and services.
Brown Ship Services is receiving orders of frozen and fresh food and storing them in refrigerated trucks at its facility on Union Wharf. When the ferry arrives in Portland every evening, the trucks deliver the food to the ferry.
Laurie Andrews Design in Saco is providing flower centerpieces for the tables in the ship’s restaurants. Pratt-Abbot in Westbrook is providing linen services.
When the ship needs repairs, Portland businesses that repair the oil tankers that call on the port will get the work.
Although some seafood and local produce will be purchased in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Portland will be supplying most of the ship’s needs because it’s a much larger community than Yarmouth, which has fewer than 7,000 residents and is a three-hour drive from Halifax, said Steve Durrell, chief operating officer for Nova Star Cruises.
Portland already has infrastructure in place and “it’s right there ready to go,” he said.
The ferry is scheduled to arrive in Portland daily at 7 p.m. and depart for Yarmouth at 9 p.m. Some passengers will pass through the city, but many will spend a portion of their vacation in Portland, said Lynn Tillotson, president and CEO of the Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Outbound ferry passengers are likely to eat dinner in city restaurants and sleep on the ferry, while many inbound passengers will decide to spend the night in a hotel in the Portland area, she said.
When the ferry arrived in Portland on Friday night with its first passengers from Nova Scotia, several passengers booked rooms in the Residence Inn, located just a block away from the terminal. The hotel’s sales manager, Shannon Vachon, said crew members also have stayed at the hotel. She said the hotel hopes to work out a deal with Nova Star Cruises giving the company a reduced rate for its crew and passengers.
Old Port retailers say they expect more business. Jacques deVillier, who owns Old Port Wine and Cigar on Commercial Street and is opening a second store on the street just three blocks from the Ocean Gateway terminal, said he’s looking forward to serving Canadians arriving by the ferry.
“I am really excited about the Nova Star,” he said.
It’s difficult to estimate what the ferry’s impact on Portland will be because all the research has been focused on Nova Scotia, which is subsidizing the service.
A study last year commissioned by the Nova Scotia International Ferry Partnership concluded that a ferry between Yarmouth and the United States would generate $16.3 million in tourism spending in the province.
Passenger spending from cruise ships visiting Portland generated $5.8 million to $8 million in sales, according to a 2009 study that looked at the impact of 48,000 passengers who visited the city in 2008.
The operators of the Nova Star predict the ferry will serve 100,000 passengers this year and as many as 150,000 in later years when the service is more established. Moreover, although the ferry will carry more people to Portland than cruise ships do, it will bring them over a six-month period, while the cruise ship season is largely limited to September and October, said Greg Mitchell, Portland’s economic development director.
The ferry is “putting feet on the street on an even basis for six months,” Mitchell said. “It will definitely activate the waterfront.”
The ferry also will bring income to city coffers. In addition to paying for security upgrades at the Ocean Gateway terminal, Nova Star Cruises will pay a minimum of $100,000 annually in rents and fees at the terminal, Mitchell said. But because the lease is based on the number of passengers and vehicles it carries, the amount will likely be more than $300,000, Durrell said.
In 2003, the peak year for the Scotia Prince, the most recent ferry that offered daily service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, the city received about $396,000 in fees. Its successor, the Cat, a high-speed ferry that operated on alternate days, paid the city $120,000 in 2006, its peak year.
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: