2010-06-26 / Top News

Arnold Transit Sold to Petoskey Attorney James Wynn

By Karen Gould

James Wynn of Petoskey is about to take his first ride from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island as the new owner of Arnold Transit Company Monday, June 21. He purchased his ticket before boarding. James Wynn of Petoskey is about to take his first ride from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island as the new owner of Arnold Transit Company Monday, June 21. He purchased his ticket before boarding. Arnold Transit Company and all other properties of Union Terminal Piers, including a ski hill, have been purchased by James Wynn of Petoskey and several financial backers. The sale, for an undisclosed amount of money, was finalized Monday, June 21.

Mr. Wynn, a 56-year-old attorney, said no changes are planned in the operations of the Arnold line ferry and freight service this year, and he has no immediate plans to sell off any of the other properties included in the sale.

Arnold's general manger and vice president Robert Brown will continue to run the company. His uncle and the company's president, Paul Brown, has left the operation and Mr. Wynn will take his place. No other changes to the payroll are anticipated, he said.

The acquisition includes all assets of Union Terminal Piers, including boats, and 70 parcels of real estate, including docks in St. Ignace, Mackinac Island, and Mackinaw City, and property in all three cities, downtown Mackinac Island buildings, and the Cannonsburg Ski Area northeast of Grand Rapids.

Arnold Transit is one of three ferry companies serving Mackinac Island and provides both passenger and freight service.

Mr. Wynn has two other investors who have a minor interest in the business. They are not from the area, he said, and chose to remain anonymous.

“Neither one has any interest on the Island or anywhere in northern Michigan,” he said.

There are no plans to sell any boats or parts of the business this year, said Mr. Wynn, and he is not anticipating making any additional purchases. The company's name will not change, he said, and no immediate changes are planned in staffing.

“You will not see any changes this year,” he said, although through the season and into the winter he will be taking a closer look at operations.

He said he will now limit his legal practice to serving a few long-time clients and shift his focus to Arnold Transit and Union Terminal Piers, where his role will be to provide capital, give direction, and solve problems.

“Every day is different,” he said of running companies. “One day it is a human resource problem, another day it's a financing problem, the next time it's a legal problem. Every day it changes. I fix things.”

Preliminary talks regarding the sale of the company with the Brown family began nine years ago in the summer of 2001, although talks were shelved following the September 11 terrorist attacks. It wasn't until 2007 that talks resumed.

“It didn't take nine years, but it probably took two and a half,” he said. “It took time to put a deal together that made sense to the Browns and to me.”

The company was founded by George T. Arnold and L.B. Coats in 1878, then called the Arnold and Coats Ferry Line. In those years, passengers were transported from the mainland to Mackinac Island aboard the steamer ship Algomah, which now is housed at Greenfield Village.

In 1890, Mr. Arnold bought out Mr. Coats and operated it for 31 years until his death in 1921, when his wife, Susan, took over running the company. Upon her death a few years later, Prentiss M. Brown and Otto Lang purchased the company.

Descendants of Mr. Brown have since operated and owned the business, which now has 11 vessels, including steel-hulled passenger boats, aluminum catamarans, and freight boats.

“It's an industry I don't see going away ever,” Mr. Wynn said of the boat operation. “It's not going to be replaced by the Internet. It's not going to be replaced by moving it to China. This can't be exported. For the most part, everybody's having a good time. It's a very unique business. It's an iconic business.”

Mr. Wynn said he appreciates that only four families have been involved in the business over its 132-year history and he wants to continue the long-time ownership tradition.

“This is a generational ownership,” said Mr. Wynn, who has known the Brown family for about 40 years. He looks at his ownership as long-term and doesn't plan to run it awhile and then sell it off, he said.

“Island first,” is his mission, he noted. “A healthy Island makes for a healthy ferry service. Anything that we can do to make the Island economically better for not only the tourists, but also the residents, there will be a direct benefit to the ferry boat system.”

Mr. Wynn said his first trip to Mackinac Island was on Arnold Transit and at some time in the future he plans to have a home on Island.

“I think it is important enough for me that ultimately I'm going to have a residence on the Island,” he said.

Mr. Wynn is a fourth generation Petoskey native. He is the great-grandson of Frederick J. Schmitt, founder of Michigan Maple Block Company of Petoskey and Bally, Pennsylvania. Then his family owned timber rights in the Upper Peninsula, and a sawmill in St. Ignace. He remembers making the car ferry trip across the Straits to St. Ignace before the Mackinac Bridge was built.

“It was indelible,” he said of a trip with his grandfather. “I was probably four years old, watching the bridge being built and taking the car ferry over to look at timber.”

Mr. Wynn attended Petoskey High School, received a Bachelor of Science degree in finance and accounting from Pennsylvania State University and a Juris Doctor from Thomas M. Cooley Law School. He was CEO and vice chairman of the board of National Wholesale Drug Company, a pharmaceutical distributing company in Detroit and has been involved in numerous contract negotiations, corporate mergers, and acquisitions. He has served on local boards in Petoskey, including Allied EMS Systems, which provides ambulance service in the St. Ignace and Mackinac Island areas, and was once president of the Petoskey Area Chamber of Commerce.

He and his wife, Candace, have been married for 26 years and have a grown daughter and son.

Arnold Transit and the other two ferry companies serving Mackinac Island, Star Line and Shepler's, operate under a franchise with the City of Mackinac Island. Last year, the city redefined boat operations under the franchise requirements and Arnold Transit agreed to continue to operate earlier in the season and run later in the season than the other boat lines. Mr. Wynn said operations will continue this year until ice in the Straits makes it impossible to run.

Under the ferry agreement, Arnold Transit is scheduled to run until January 15, weather permitting. In return for its longer service, the company receives a reduction in fees from the city. It pays 2% of its gross passenger receipts for the year, compared to 2.5% paid by Star Line and Shepler's, who have shorter operating seasons.

The franchise with all three boat companies will expire in March 2011.

Local property included

in the sale of Union Terminal Piers

(Source: County and

village tax records)


PROPERTY Arnold Dock

Coal Dock

East Dock (the old Straits Transit or Welch dock)

6 downtown buildings on Main Street

1 Laundromat building by the East Dock

1 building on the Coal Dock

Condominium in Stonecliffe Manor


Mill Slip Moorage Dock One in center of town

Favorite Dock

Area of Dock Three leased from city for freight dock

Ticket booths: Near Mackinac Trail, US-2 near Northern Lights Restaurant, near post office, North State Street near Manley's Smoked Fish

Bay View Beach Front Motel (former Wishing Well) on North State Street

Castle Golf and Games on North State Street

Vacant lot on the corner of State and Reagon streets

Parking areas: Near post office, next to Galley, at Favorite Dock, at Main dock, corner of Fitch and State streets

Property at Millslip, storage building and parking on Ojibway Trail



Small Dock between Bell's Fishery and Shepler's

Main Dock

Portion of State Dock, leased from State of Michigan

Parking lot behind Embers Restaurant and additional undeveloped property

Lot on East Central Avenue includes information booth by Courtyard Inn

Parking on Nicolet Street south of Burger King, leased from Jim Wier

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