One Bid Received For Beach Photo Franchise

OCEAN CITY – Beach photography businesses didn’t take the bait set by the Mayor and City Council in lowering the minimal bid as only one bidder stepped forward to seek the franchise.

Toward the end of last October, the Mayor and City Council voted to decrease the minimum bid for beach photography franchises on Ocean City’s beaches, in an effort to help the hurting industry.

Patrick McLaughlin of United Beach Photo Inc. owned the franchise at that time and presented to the council the struggle between the business and the costs in keeping up with the technology today to make the operation successful. Consequently, to help reduce expenses, he asked the city to lower the minimum bid to hold a beach photography business in Ocean City.

The minimum bid at that time was $300,000, and the council agreed to revise the minimum bid to $150,000.

At this week’s meeting, bids were opened for the beach photography franchises. The council was surprised when only one bidder, McLaughlin, brought forward his two bids.

“Usually when we only have one bid we don’t open it,” Council President Jim Hall said. “But this is a very unique situation out there on the beach and usually we only have one or two bidders at best.”

Councilman Joe Hall made the motion to open the single bid, recognizing the fact that the council has the right to accept or reject any bid and was seconded by Councilwoman Margaret Pillas.

“I’m not sure this is a good thought, we could potentially re-bid this.” Councilman Doug Cymek said.

Ocean City code concerning beach photography franchises states that all bids shall be awarded to the highest bidders except that, should the council determine there are irregularities in such bidding they may reject such bids as they deem appropriate and postpone the awarding bids.

“You lowered the minimum bid by 50 percent already,” Joe Hall said. “It is what it is. And if it’s not high enough, maybe we don’t do business on the beach.”

City Clerk Kathy Mathias said the town had sent out the bid notice to all previous and potential bidders. It was also advertised in the newspaper.

“It is a unique business. We have lowered the bids just because we know the franchise person [McLaughlin] we did have there was having a hard time,” she said.

City Solicitor Guy Ayres said that by opening the one and only bid, the council was, “letting the cat out of the bag”, if it was later decided to reject it.

The council decided to go ahead with opening the bids in a 6-1 vote, with Doug Cymek in opposition.

The franchise accepted by the council will hold a four-year contract, and the operator will have the option to renew that contract for an additional four-year term. Also, an operator shall be permitted to hold both franchises allowed on Ocean City’s beaches. The minimum bid is set at $150,000, and the operator is required to pay 50 percent of the first year’s bid up front.

The bids provided were made by United Beach Photo Inc., owned by McLaughlin. The first bid was set at $220,000 per year, a total of $880,000 in the four-year term.

The second bid made by the same company was set at $175,000 per year with a total of $700,000 in the four-year term.

A motion was made by Pillas to accept the bids and remand to staff for review and was seconded by Councilwoman Mary Knight. The vote passed unanimously.

“I’m glad we opened them,” Joe Hall said.