Buried in an innocuous looking agenda item, “Chief Administrative Officer: Administrative Matters,” on the Worcester County Commissioners Meeting Agenda for January 10, 2023 was Item #7: “Updates on the Ice Rink and Alyosha Agreement.” Little did anybody know, including the Lessee, Thrive Engineering, owner and operator of the Alyosha, that the majority of the members of the Worcester County Commissioners would soon vote to cancel their commitment to a 5 year lease of the slip in West Ocean City, a 5-year contractual agreement in place through 2024.
What is the Alyosha?
The Alyosha is a 50’ catamaran that came to Ocean City in 2019 and had a cameo appearance in Jimmy Charles’ music video, “It’s a Maryland Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand.” The Alyosha provides cruises throughout the summer season and has seen many customers come back year after year. The Alyosha has hosted 18 weddings and many other special events for Ocean City visitors as well as many staff appreciation events for local businesses. The Barefoot Beach Bride features weddings on the Aloysha on their website.
The Alyosha docks overnight at the County’s slip in West Ocean City next to the busy public boat ramp there, but they pick up and drop off their customers on the other side of the harbor at Pier 23. This prevents any Alyosha customers from clogging up parking in the public lot for the boat ramp. Many of these customers wait at Pier 23 for their departure by buying food and drinks in the restaurant. In the 2022 season alone, the Alyosha hosted over 2300 paying customers.
“We are completely blindsided by this decision,” said Steve Butz, owner of Thrive Engineering and the Alyosha. “Our five year agreement with the County enabled me to invest in our business here in Ocean City so that we could grow the number of Ocean City visitors who are able to enjoy a unique sailing experience. We partner with local businesses and our crews act as tour guides, recommending local restaurants and bars to our customers. We spend maybe 25% of the time at the County’s dock. The majority of our time is spent out on the water with our guests or at Pier 23. Our guests spend a lot of money in Ocean City and the County Commissioners’ canceling our agreement to dock in West Ocean City endangers our ability to continue our business operation here.”
How Did the Commissioners Vote and What Was Their Reasoning?
In the video of the Commissioners meeting, The Commissioners asked for an update on Alyosha license agreement at the West Ocean City harbor from Kelly Rados, the Director of Worcester County Recreation and Parks. (This discussion starts at 37:40 in the video recording of the meeting if you are interested in watching the discussion.)
According to Rados, the County gets $8500 annually from the Alyosha to use the slip from the Friday before Memorial Day to Monday of Labor Day Weekend and Saturdays and Sundays in September. Thrive Engineering has a 5 year agreement in place for that slip which ends in September of 2024. In addition, the tourism office for the County paid $5500 to the Alyosha for advertising on a sail branded with, “Maryland’s Coast.”
Commissioner Bunting started his comments after asking for the overview of the agreement with, “As everybody is aware, I didn’t vote for this when it happened. I think the dock was better used for people unloading boats and having a place to tie up and unload their coolers or tie up and wait while they were waiting for the opportunity to reload their boat. And I think that’s what the use of the dock in that area is for and I think that putting this use there was wrong.” He then moved that the County give Thrive Engineering the required 90 day notice to cancel the agreement. A second was immediately made by Commissioner Fiori.
During the discussion period, Commissioner Mitrecic stated that this decision affects his district and he has received no complaints from anybody about the Alyosha. He also stated that Commissioner Church, who was the representative for the West Ocean City area through the Alyosha’s entire 2022 presence at the dock had also received no complaints. Commissioner Mitrecic said that this agreement is income and he doesn’t see what the issue is with this agreement. He also stated that it’s wrong to cancel the lease agreement and intimated that if the agenda of some of the current Commissioners is to undo everything the previous commissioners did he wanted no part in it.
Commissioner Elder said that, “We have an agreement. We should live up to our side of the agreement … to just pull the rug out from somebody after you have made an agreement with them is wrong… I live up to my agreements and I think we should live up to ours.” Commissioner Elder then voted with the majority to cancel the lease agreement and give the owner notice of the cancellation.
Commissioner Fiori said that he is an avid boater and that having the Alyosha there has really affected the flow of the boat ramp. Commissioner Fiori was elected to represent District 3, Bud Church’s old district and the one that encompasses West Ocean City, in November 2022. He said there is no spot at the harbor for boaters to stage their food and supplies for the day. He went on to say that the price the County is charging for the dockage is pennies on the dollar for the real estate for a boat of that size. He said the inconvenience to boaters is far greater than the $8500 in slip fees the County is getting.
Nowhere in the Commissioners’ discussion was there mention of the Alyosha being an operating business that brings customers and tax revenue to the county.
LETTERS FLOWING INTO THE COMMISSIONERS
The Worcester County Commissioners have been receiving letters expressing discontent with their decision to cancel the lease. Michael Anderson from Big Oyster Brewing wrote, “Anyone who’s been out on a boat like this will tell you that there’s nothing like it. Taking an experience like this out of the bag for people visiting Ocean City would be a major mistake…their impact on the community can’t be minimized or disregarded.”
Hugo Cardenas wrote, “Ocean City was built on the hard work of small family businesses and we should continue to nurture and support such businesses…The slip is only in use by themafter dark and they are paying the county rent…I fail to understand your logic.”
To see the results of the poll created to get your take on the action of the Worcester County Commissioners, click to see that article.
I commitment is just that, you honor your commitments. I think it’s ethically and possibly legally wrongdoing by the commission not to abide by a contract they entered. It’s really grimy of them to pull this stunt on the owners of the sailboat. They owe them another dockage until September 24. But that’s typical of the government for ya,