OCEAN CITY — A north-end water taxi company is seeking a private-public partnership with the town of Ocean City to potentially expand the service throughout the resort.
About two years ago, amid some opposition at the time, the Mayor and Council approved a conditional use request allowing for a water taxi service based at a canal adjacent to the Food Lion shopping center near 118th Street. In the two years since, the OC Bayhopper has operated to mostly rave reviews, but its service is currently limited to privately-owned drop-off points including many of the bayfront bars and restaurants.
Last fall, with its conditional use about to expire, OC Bayhopper requested and was granted a five-year extension. At the time, OC Bayhopper Captain Stephen Butz hinted at a private-public partnership with the town to expand the potential drop-off points to include certain city-owned properties.
The intent is to create a viable water taxi service in and around the resort, ostensibly moving families and other passengers to the Boardwalk and other downtown attractions. Another potential drop-off spot is the convention center, where passengers could hop on the water taxi in north Ocean City for a pleasurable trip to conventions, concerts and other events, for example.
“We will continue to run our business and move people around the best we can using the bars and restaurants as drop-off points,” said Butz. “We like to have a better answer for people with families and young children.”
City Manager Terry McGean outlined OC Bayhopper’s request to expand the business with a private-public partnership during a presentation on Tuesday of the draft capital improvement plan (CIP). Creating drop-off points at some city-owned locations would require some modifications, most notably a pier extending from the existing Sunset Park near the Coast Guard station. Other improvements could include ADA-compliant docks and piers at other locations, including, for example, Northside Park or the public boat ramp at 64th Street.
Some of those improvements were included on the draft CIP, but Butz explained OC Bayhopper was essentially just asking for permission to use the locations and for the town to assist in acquiring grants that could pay for them. He said a consultant has already identified numerous potential grants for improving the locations.
“When I look at participation from the city, I’m really not asking for money,” he said. “We’ve found maybe 10 to 12 funding sources for grants. We’d like the city to facilitate obtaining those grants.”
Butz said expanding the service to city-owned drop-off points could create a true water-based transportation system and a nice amenity for residents and visitors.
“Our business is doing well, but we definitely believe having other places to drop people off, maybe Sunset Park and the convention center would be nice amenity for the town,” he said. “We’re prepared to lose a little money in the short term because that’s what it’s going to take to ingrain in people they can get around Ocean City by boat.”
Butz explained the reasoning behind some of the city-owned drop-off points chosen.
“Sunset Park is by far the most important to get families to and from the Boardwalk,” he said. “The convention center would have a little higher price tag, but it would be really ideal to drop people off there for conventions and events and they don’t have to drive.”
No action was taken and pitch was largely conceptual at this point. However, some on the Mayor and Council appeared to embrace the idea.
“I think this is a great opportunity here,” said Councilman Mark Paddack. “I think having a water-based transportation option is a great idea.”