Shuttered Captain John's could be waterfront fixture for years
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Captain John’s Restaurant could remain a fixture on Toronto’s waterfront for years and it may ultimately be up to a marine court to decide the ship’s fate.
“I’m still floating,” “Captain” John Letnik said Wednesday from his beloved ship, Jadran, where the water has been shut off and the restaurant closed by health department order.
The Toronto Port Authority, Waterfront Toronto and the City of Toronto moved in tandem Tuesday to shut down the waterfront landmark over more than $568,000 in back taxes, utilities and outstanding lease payments.
In essence, the ship has been placed under arrest under Canadian marine law. Waterfront Toronto rescinded its lease on a walkway next to the ship and ordered that the gangplank and all signage be removed by July 27.
The Toronto Port Authority has ordered that the ship “must refrain from leaving,” which is moot since it has no engine and is mired in the muck of Lake Ontario where it’s been moored since 1975.
“The status of the ship is yet to be determined,” said Toronto Port Authority vice president Alan Paul in an email.
“What we have taken now are last-ditch measures,” said Casey Brendon, director of the revenue services division of the City of Toronto which is owed taxes going back a decade.
If this was a home or business, the city would have had the power to seize the property and sell it for back taxes after three years of nonpayment.
“Our normal collection measures just don’t work in this case because it’s a ship,” said Brendon, and subject to marine law. “That’s why this has been going on for so long.”
At least for now, Letnik, 73, still owns the ship and its contents, which he’s been trying to sell for $1.2 million. While he said there have been some shows of interest, any sale would be contingent on getting a long-term lease, rather than the current month to month lease, on the prime watery real estate at the foot of Yonge St.
The Toronto Port Authority refused to comment on that question Wednesday. Waterfront Toronto has plans for a new waterfront park where the gangplank to the rusting relic now sits.
“I just want to pay my bills and retire with dignity,” said Letnik, who also owes staff back wages.
But civic authorities could find themselves facing a far more costly problem: Letnik could just walk away or the city could face a lengthy battle under the Canada Marine Act to seize and move the eyesore which, according to boat brokers, is worth almost nothing.
Worse yet, it could cost the city $250,000 to tow and scrap the ship, said Wayne Elliott of Port Colborne-based Marine Recycling Corp., given that old ships can contain everything from asbestos to lead paint.