Lake ferry will feature special business cabin

The Lake Express high-speed ferry that will begin service this summer will feature a special cabin to cater to business executives. The Lake Michigan ferry cruise between Milwaukee and Muskegon, Mich., will provide another option for southeastern Wisconsin executives looking to entertain clients or reward staff, according to David Lubar, senior manager of Lake Express LLC, Milwaukee.
The Lake Express will accommodate about 250 passengers and 46 cars, Lubar said.
The business class will seat 50 passengers in wider, more luxurious and comfortable seats with tables. The section will include television monitors, food and beverages.
"The idea is to cross the lake and get to a destination in a prompt, easy manner without stress and the hassle of driving through Chicago," said Lubar. "From a business perspective, it can mean easy access to wherever you need to go in Michigan, whether it is Grand Rapids or Detroit."
The Lake Express, a high-speed ferry, will cross the lake in two hours and 20 minutes and will boast an environment conducive to passengers on business.
"When you are in the car, you can talk on the phone but you cannot use the computer, and it is difficult to do both on an airplane," said Kenneth Szallai, director of the Port of Milwaukee. "On the Lake Express, you can take out a computer, spread out your paperwork at a table, conduct business on a cell phone or finish a report — while at the same time you are making progress on the voyage."
The Lake Express is the first high-speed auto/passenger ferry to be built and to operate within the United States, according to Lubar.
With four 3,000-horsepower jet-propelled engines, the boat will reach speeds around 40 mph.
Electronic stabilization will control the engines and vary the amount of thrust for a comfortable and smooth ride, Lubar said.
According to Lubar, the boat was designed and built under the supervision of the U.S. Coast Guard and either meets or exceeds all safety requirements. Lubar said the company building the vessel, Austal USA of Mobile, Ala., is a world leader in the design and construction of high-speed ferries.
The $18.5 million Lake Express is 70% finished, Lubar said, and will be brought to Milwaukee through the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes in April.
Lubar also is the president of Lubar & Co., a Milwaukee investment firm that founded Lake Express. Lubar and Oyvind Solvang, vice president of Lubar & Co. and senior manager of Lake Express, have been working for three years on the ferry project with Szallai and the Port of Milwaukee.
"The idea came from the Port of Milwaukee and needed a sponsor who would embrace the idea, develop a business plan and execute it," Lubar said.
According to Szallai and Lubar, a market research team was hired as a third party to conduct general surveys in preparation for the design of the ferry. "What many have said about the drive around the lake is that it is long in and of itself, and it is very unpredictable," said Szallai. "When it takes five to six hours without traffic, it is a disincentive to conduct business."
Ticket prices for the Lake Express have not been released yet, but Lubar said the price will be competitive with the alternatives of flying or driving. According to Szallai, tickets will be in the range of $80 to $90 for a roundtrip without a car on board, and the climate-controlled areas and business class cabin can make the ride either highly productive or highly relaxing.
"Anecdotally, many people have indicated that they like the idea of taking the vessel predominantly for business purposes," said Szallai.
The ferry service will run from June through December this year, and May through December each successive year, making three daily trips to Muskegon in the summer and two in spring and fall, according to Lubar.
The Muskegon Web site for the ferry,, posted a schedule with departure times to Muskegon at 6:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., and return trips to Milwaukee departing at 10:30 a.m., 4:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
"From the business community, the ferry is an opportunity that is cost-effective, time effective and predictable, and that will allow businesses to pursue opportunities that perhaps they were not pursuing before," said Szallai.
Both Lubar and Szallai hope to see a rise in business opportunities between the two states once Milwaukee and Muskegon are directly connected by the ferry.
"If you look at this as an inexpensive, convenient, time-saving way for business prospecting on both sides of the lake, then taking the ship across in two and one-half hours allows people to still have a sufficient business day," Szallai said. "The cost effect will also allow companies to extend existing business ties and make more trips across the lake."

Feb. 20, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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