Formalization Of OC Pier Franchise Extension Underway

Formalization Of OC Pier Franchise Extension Underway
Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week began finalizing the historic Ocean City Fishing Pier franchise agreement with the passage on first reading of a pair of ordinances setting the extension in motion.

Last week, Ocean City officials announced it had reached an agreement in principle with Charles “Buddy” Jenkins and his Synepuxent Pier and Improvement Company to extend the franchise agreement for the pier that juts eastward from the Boardwalk at Wicomico Street. On Monday, the Mayor and Council began formalizing the pier franchise extension agreement with the approval of two separate, but related, ordinance changes on first reading.

The first piece of the puzzle is an ordinance formalizing the extension of the pier franchise agreement for an additional 25 years beyond the 10 years remaining on the initial agreement reached between the city and Jenkins’ companies in 1978. That ordinance essentially extends the franchise agreement for another 35 years and ensures the iconic amusement pier will remain in its current state for decades to come.

The second ordinance approved on first-reading on Monday restricts, or dedicates, the proceeds of the extended pier franchise agreement to the future repair and replacement of the wooden Boardwalk for the life of the new extension. It is estimated the new pier franchise agreement will generate roughly $9.1 million over the life of the extension and those funds will be dedicated to repairing and replacing the wooden Boardwalk as needed over the next three decades-plus.

It is expected the wooden elements of the Boardwalk will likely need to be replaced roughly four times over the life of the 35-year franchise agreement. Before the agreement was even reached, town officials were working toward the next major re-decking of the Boardwalk, which is expected to begin next fall. City Engineer Terry McGean this week said the new franchise agreement and its dedicated funding source did not mean a sudden influx of cash to immediately jump into the next Boardwalk re-decking. Instead because of the scope of the project, the extensive bidding process and the purchase of lumber, for example, the major project will not begin until next fall as planned.  The estimated cost of the project is $1.2 million.

Nonetheless, the benefits of extending the agreement are significant for both parties. For Jenkins, a 25-year extension means he can confidently continue to make investments and improvements to the pier and his Jolly Roger amusement park and other amenities.

For the town of Ocean City, the extension ensures continuity for what is arguably recognized image of Ocean City. Again, the estimated $9.1 million in revenue over the life of the agreement provides a dedicated funding source for maintaining the wooden Boardwalk, with its nostalgic sounds, feel and smells, for the next three decades-plus.

The agreement was reached after careful negotiations between Jenkins and his staff and a three-member committee of councilmembers including Council Secretary Mary Knight and Councilmen Dennis Dare and John Gehrig. Prior to the vote on the first ordinance on Monday, Councilman Mark Paddack applauded his colleagues on the committee for negotiating a mutually beneficial franchise agreement.

“I’d just like to thank the committee for their assistance in negotiating this contract,” he said. “The council agreed 7-0 this was the way to go for our future.”

Dare has been involved with the pier and the franchise agreement for decades, first as city engineer, then as city manager and finally as a councilman. He said the agreement before the council on Monday ensured the pier would remain as is for years to come.

“It’s been 37 years since I first started working on this,” he said. “We are going to ensure we can maintain that family atmosphere on the pier for another 35 years. Everything just kind of fell into place. Not only does this ensure an amusement pier for decades, but it ensures a wooden Boardwalk and a funding source to keep it that way for at least 35 years.”

For her part, Knight said extending the franchise agreement with Jenkins evoked nostalgia for generations of visitors and residents.

“I’m very excited about tonight,” she said. “I spend a lot of time up there in the summer and it’s so exciting to see the families enjoying the games and rides we grew up with all of these years. The best way to describe all of this is nostalgia.”

Mayor Rick Meehan also praised the franchise extension and said it will preserve perhaps the most lasting image of Ocean City for many visitors and residents.

“We have two iconic structures that will be preserved because of this,” he said. “The first is that amusement pier and all of the amenities it offers. The second is that iconic Ferris wheel that everybody looks to see when they come up on the Boardwalk.”

Meehan said Jenkins and his companies have always been great partners with the city in terms of the pier franchise, including repairing and replacing the end of the fishing pier damaged or destroyed during storms at least three times in the last decade. He also pointed to a different era when the city expressed interest in utilizing part of the pier franchise easement area.

“After Hurricane Gloria in the 1980s, we wanted to move the tram lane around the pier because of all of the congestion at the south end of the Boardwalk,” he said. “Mr. Jenkins stepped right up and made that happen. We have had a great partnership and a good working relationship all of these years.”

The franchise agreement reached with Jenkins and the company includes a one-time, up-front payment of $1 million. In addition, when the new agreement starts in 2030, it will include an annual payment of $250,000 to the town in that first year. In each year after, interest will be compounded annually at 3%, meaning the annual payment to the town will grow exponentially to over $500,000 by the end of the 25-year deal.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.