September 3, 2013

Oregon Inlet Fishing Center will compete with others for concession contract

BY CATHERINE KOZAK



For the first time in at least 17 years, Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, Inc., which includes some of the original sportfishermen on the Outer Banks, will have to compete against other bidders for a 10-year concession contract to run the busy marina.

“We’ve had this contract for 40 years,” said Tony Tillett, chairman of the company’s board of directors. “It’s a big drawing card for our area.”

The National Park Service has received so many questions about the prospectus that was first released in June that it has extended the original 90-day solicitation period from Sept. 3 to Feb. 5, 2014. The new contract is expected to be awarded by fall 2014.

Darrell Echols, deputy superintendent of the Park Service Outer Banks Group, said that so far about a dozen prospective bidders have expressed interest, and there have been about 68 questions seeking clarification about the bidding process and the prospectus.

 The new contract, he said, will manage the operation under the agency’s 1998 concession law -- its most recent.  The draft contract calls for a year-round business offering charter boat and headboat trips for a fee to the public. The concession will also provide moorage and fuel sales in the water and at the docks, as well as fishing supplies and groceries at the retail store. 

“This contract is a 1965 contract,” he said, “so the ’98 law really needs to be in effect in our park.”

The Park Service also plans to update the concession contract with the Avon Fishing Pier in the near future, he said.

There are a number of changes in the fishing center’s draft contract, Echols said. The agency will be looking at how each bidder proposes to provide the necessary services to meet the criteria, so it is difficult to predict what the final concession agreement will include.

Sales of disposable water bottles have been banned as of June, but the ban won’t go into effect until the Park Service has installed its new water stations. Inexpensive BPA-free bottles and aluminum bottles will be sold onsite.

Echols said that the water stations installed in July at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site have already saved the use of 1,100 water bottles. The bottle ban is part of the agency’s overall green initiative, an effort that will also be a factor in awarding a contract for the concession.

For the first time, the new concessioner at Oregon Inlet would have to pay a minimum franchise fee of 4 percent and be responsible for maintenance of the infrastructure.

Insurance would be required to cover $6 million, rather than the previous $300,000. And all repairs and improvements would be required to abide by federal bidding and construction guidelines. 

With the agency’s approval, the required services can also be provided through sub-concession contracts. The concessioner also has the option to provide its own fleet of charter boats and captains.

The proposed 4 percent fee on charter trips could really hurt charter captains, who are already dealing with fuel increases, said Duke Spencer, a 30-year veteran charter captain. 

“It hits the bottom line,” he said. “What you do is increase your rates or suck it in.”

But rates cannot be increased without permission of the Park Service, which has required the marina to match other area marina rates, Spencer said.

Charter captains are sub-contractors in the current concession agreement.

“The last couple of years, business has been just holding its own,” said Spencer, owner of charter boat Capt’n Duke. “A lot of that has to do with the economy. The funds available to the tourist has not allowed for much extracurricular activities.”

The concession contract held since 1973 by Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, Inc. expires on Dec. 31. The company, with 18 stockholders and controlled by a board of directors, has been in place since the 1960s and has been the sole concessionaire. 

“The current Oregon Inlet board has done a great job providing a service to the public,” Echols said.

Echols said that the current contract has been extended repeatedly year-by-year and has not been competitive. Part of the reason is the time and resources it took to get the document ready to put out to bid.
 
“We wanted to get this prospectus a lot sooner,” he said, “but it’s taken a lot longer than we had hoped.”

Oregon Inlet Fishing Center has its origins in the modest charter fishing business launched after World War II by Sam Tillett and other watermen. According to the website for Sam & Omie’s Restaurant in Nags Head, originally their vessels were moored in a ditch across from where Pirate’s Cove is today.
When the state built a road from Whalebone Junction to Oregon Inlet, the men seized the opportunity to move their boats closer to the inlet and its great fishing. By 1953, a small marina was constructed at the site, and in 1955 the National Park Service purchased the land and the marina, which was leased back to Sam’s brother, Toby.

Today, Sam’s son, Omie, owns stock in the marina his uncle helped grow to the full-service, 42-vessel charter operation, and his younger son, Tony, is the chairman of the company’s Board of Directors.

“Maybe 15 of us moved down there and started taking charters out of Oregon Inlet,” Tony Tillett, 72, recalled, adding that it was then mostly a family operation. “That’s the way it started out, because we were all local captains. We just wanted the marina to operate out of Oregon Inlet. At that point, things were so on the down, there wasn’t much money.” 

Tillett said that the original marina soon changed hands, and his company eventually bought out the contract from somebody else.

“There’s a few of us left,” he said.

Other old-timers and their descendants who still own stock in the company include Arvin Midgett, Sam Stokes, Buddy Cannady, Billy Baum, Kenneth Brown, grandson of Aycock Brown and son of Billy Brown,  and Shannon Twiddy, granddaughter of Warren O’Neal and daughter of Hudean O’Neal.
 
Tillett said that the way it now, the charter vessels are only charged dock rent. He said the draft contract proposes to not only collect a share of the business gross --most of which is earned by the charters -- but also another 4 percent fee from them.

“They would be double-dipping,” he said.

When it comes down to the wire, Tillett said that a lot of those details may be negotiable. But he said the first impression of the “scouts” sent by the agency in June was not very good. 

“They thought the Park Service owned every charter boat we had out there,” he said. “They don’t even know what’s going on.”

If the company is not awarded the contract, Tillett said they would probably wait to see what the new concessioner would do.

“Who knows?” he said. “Maybe they don’t want a charter fleet there anymore.”

Twiddy, a board member who is also Manteo’s finance officer, said that the board agreed to apply for the concession and was ready to submit the prospectus when the deadline was extended. Now she said they will wait until the Park Service publishes the answers to the questions, expected within a few weeks. Meanwhile, she said that she believes that the company is in a strong position.

“We’re trying to move forward and protect the tradition and to be able to provide the service,” Twiddy said. “I would say that Oregon Inlet Fishing Center would be a successful bidder based on our history. They’ve got basically 40 years of experience providing charter fishing trips.

“To me, they put sport fishing on the map. These folks made sportfishing what it is.”
               

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Parties interested in learning more about this opportunity and reviewing the updated Business Opportunity and Draft Operating Plan should visit the NPS Commercial Services website at http://www.concessions.nps.gov/prospectuses.htm.
               

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