Marco Polo Project Saint John New Brunswick

Marco Polo Project Saint John New Brunswick

Council agrees to chip in $600,000 for ship replica

   The catch is that a volunteer group must produce the other two-thirds of the $1.8- million cost. Barry Ogden thinks the Millennium Fund might come through with the cash.

Times Globe staff writer

    Saint John's council is willing to climb on board the Marco Polo to the tune of $600,000
   But Mayor Shirley McAlary isn't planning to sign any cheques right away.
    In a closed-door meeting before Christmas, the councillors agreed to contribute one-third of the costs to build a replica of Saint John's most famous ship.
    The premise of the city's commitment for $600,000 is on the condition that the group comes up with the other two-thirds - $1.2-million.
    The Marco Polo group has applied to the federal government's Millennium Fund for assistance. But the mayor doesn't think it will be enough.
    "I believe the application that went in to the federal government was only for $600,000," Ms. McAlary said after last night's meeting of Common Council.
    And that leaves a rather large gap in the funding and makes the mayor skeptical about the project.
    "It's doubtful at the moment. We have no idea where the other money would come from," she said. That's why the committee resolution was never brought to an open meeting of council for ratification.
    Barry Ogden's been dreaming of a replica of the tall ship for years. The Saint John High School teacher, head of the Marco Polo Project for the past 13 years, has raised the profile of the ship both in New Brunswick and , across Canada, fighting for a commemorative coin and stamp, among other things.
   Mr. Ogden's latest request for Common Council funding for the replica came during a meeting in October.
    This morning, the only word to describe his mood was jubilant.
    "I've never felt better," he said.
    He's confident that the federal cash is in the bag, because the project meets all nine Millennium Fund criteria, but it will be another couple of months before he'll know for sure.
   Mr. Ogden said that if everything falls into place, Saint John could have its Marco Polo - which he envisions being almost as tall as City Hall - within the year.
    "We've had some engineering and architectural work done. This could all be put together in nine months," he said. "We feel pretty good about it."
    If the Marco Polo does finally come into being, he believes it'll be a catalyst for other things, like the city's plan to spruce up Water Street. "This is the icon, the centre of it all," he says of the Marco Polo. "This would put us on the map."
    Mr. Ogden says he doesn't expect the city to kick in any more than the one-third of the cost they've already agreed to. He is banking on other sources coming through with money after the project gets rolling.
    In its short life, the Marco Polo was the world's fastest sailing ship. The idea of building a replica of the 1850s sailing ship, which ran aground in an 1883 storm off Prince Edward Island, has been floating around the Port City for more than a decade.
    In its latest form, the plan is to construct a land-based version that could also serve as a tourist centre.
    The land-based ship would cost considerably less than the $20-million or so needed for a full-scale sailing version of the ship.