Erie and Ottawa tourist officials say new island route can only help
Members of local visitor bureaus are calling the new Jet Express service out of Lorain a boon to the local economy.
"I think it just has the potential to bring more people to the islands," said Larry Fletcher, spokesman for the Lake Erie Shores and Islands' Ottawa County bureau.
Lance Woodworth, Jet Express director of operations, said the ferry service plans to have regular weekend service from Lorain to Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island as soon as May 2009.
"Right now we're in the planning stages," he said.
The Jet Express plans to add a 149-passenger catamaran ferry to its fleet for the service. Woodworth said the boat will feature a bar and comfortable seating, making the one hour, 10 minute trip to Put in Bay a pleasurable experience.
"It will be a nice relaxing ride so, in addition to transportation, it is a type of entertainment," Woodworth said.
He said the company plans to charge $60 for the round trip to the islands, and will offer one trip to and from Lorain each Friday, Saturday and Sunday. More trips will be added if there is demand for them, he said.
"We're going to try to keep it as cost effective as we can for people," Woodworth said. "It's going to depend on how gas prices go. Right now they are down but if they are up around $4 a gallon next summer, it's going to increase the cost effectiveness."
Woodworth said Jet Express is also looking into running special trips out of Lorain to places like Cedar Point and downtown Cleveland.
"We want to keep it baby steps -- start out smaller and then grow into it," he said.
Rick Novak, executive director of the Lorain Port Authority, said he plans to contact local visitor bureau personnel to help market the Lake Erie Islands as a destination out of Lorain's Black River Landing port.
"I don't think we will hurt the Sandusky market at all," Novak said.
He said the port authority helped the Jet Express set up in Lorain as part of the city's plan to make the Black River Landing site a hub for water and rail travel.
"We want to make this a waterfront destination, just like you do," Novak said.
Jill Bauer, spokeswoman for Lake Erie Shores and Islands' Erie County bureau, said she would be onboard with helping Lorain market the Put in Bay islands as a destination.
"We are certainly very happy for the Jet Express and happy they are growing," she said.
Bauer said she had a small concern a link from Lorain directly to the islands would keep visitors from spending time and money in Sandusky. She said, however, boosting tourism to Put in Bay ultimately benefits Erie and Ottawa counties.
"This area is more than just one attraction and if people are going to visit, they are going to want to see everything we have to offer," she said. "It's still going to benefit us. Put-in-Bay is in Ottawa County and Kelleys Island is in Erie County and that helps our economy."
Fletcher agreed that getting additional visitors to the islands was more important than how they get there.
"Some people that will travel on the ferry boats going to the islands are more concerned with where they are going than where they are coming from," Fletcher said.
Put-in-Bay is a popular vacation spot just 2 miles offshore of mainland Northwest Ohio in Lake Erie. While "Put-in-Bay" is technically the name of the village on South Bass Island, the name commonly is inadvertently used to refer to the entire island. A summer resort since the mid-1800's, the village can be considered the hub of tourism among the Lake Erie Islands, with its numerous taverns, wineries, restaurants, waterfront condos, rental homes, and hotels.