Toronto entrepreneur James Sbrolla is a risk-taking investor in recycling and clean technology companies. The 46-year-old bought the rusting relic Captain John’s restaurant. The $33,501 Sbrolla paid in a court-ordered auction of the ship may not seem like a lot of money, even for 300 feet of towering, unsightly metal. But now the real spending starts.
Sbrolla, an avid sailor, acknowledged after the bidding that he’s uncertain what it will cost to insure and tow the ship. He doesn’t even have a plan for what to do with it. And he’s facing a tight deadline: under a court order issued last June, the ship has to be gone from its prime slip at the foot of Yonge Street by Aug. 22, 2014.
Captain John's website still works:
“I was hoping that if you run a story tomorrow, someone would pick up the phone and call me,” Sbrolla told the Star while vacationing in the Hamptons. His brother John was in court and filed the bid under his Aurora company. “We’d be delighted to entertain a conversation,” with someone looking to buy the ship, or be a partner in restoring the ship, the MS Jadran, to its former glory as a waterfront destination,” said Sbrolla in a telephone conversation.
If not, Sbrolla says, he’ll use his business background to find creative ways of recycling or reusing lifeboats and other valuable pieces of the ship, such as its massive brass propellers, before having it scrapped. “There are lots of different ways to move it. We’ll find the best one and we’ll find the best place to take it. I’m not concerned about it being there Aug. 22,” he said.
The auction was aimed at getting the best price possible for the derelict ship, which has been mired in legal and financial difficulties for more than a decade. Its longtime owner, “Captain” John Letnik, 75, owes more than $1 million in back realty taxes and berthing and other fees to the Toronto Port Authority, Waterfront Toronto and the city of Toronto. He also has more than $650,000 in outstanding mortgages.
Letnik said he will continue with his $1.2-million lawsuit against the port authority, launched in December, claiming its refusal to issue a long-term lease for an alternative spot on the waterfront crippled his ability to sell the ship as a business venture. “Good luck,” Letnik said to John Sbrolla, shaking his hand at the end of the court proceeding. “If you need any help, I will help. I’d love to see the ship go on.”
Port authority harbourmaster Angus Armstrong, who was also in court, said he’ll be happy to see the ship finally moved to make way for the continued revitalization of the waterfront.
In the end, there were three bids for the waterfront landmark, which, according to a court-ordered appraisal, is now a $125,000 liability. That’s because the cost of insuring, towing and scrapping the ship could run more than $725,000, far outweighing its $600,000 value as scrap.
Another bidder, Marine Recycling Corp. of Port Colborne, asked to be paid, in essence, to take it off the city’s hands — $303,756 in scrapping costs.
A third bid became a source of much hand-wringing because it was filed four minutes after the 9 a.m. Thursday deadline set by the court. Justice Glennys McVeigh ordered that the bid be opened — despite a last-minute scrawl on the back of the envelope. It said the offer of $150,000 was conditional on the ship staying in Toronto harbour. That violated the condition that the ship be gone by Aug. 22.