The Town of Perryville is close to signing an agreement with a local company to operate its boat tour business originating at Lower Ferry Pier. Town officials, however, still have lingering questions that will need to be answered before January's town meeting.
The operators of Bay Runner Tours, Fred and Marleena Lied, asked the town in November to use the pier to pick up and drop off customers during scheduled boat tours.
Since then, the town has been working with the Lieds to come up with an agreement that works for both parties.
A vote on a final agreement will be on the agenda for the Jan. 8 town meeting.
At Tuesday's work session, Commissioner Barbara Brown said she spoke to the couple that day and, while they haven't been able to go over the agreement "item by item because of the holidays," they do have a few concerns.
One concern, she continued, is a part in the agreement that states the town is not responsible for portable bathrooms.
Brown noted, however, that the town will need to provide portable bathrooms at Rodgers Tavern, which is near the pier, until there is a permanent facility and the public, including any customers, can use them.
In addition, the Lieds had a question about the need to pay for workman's compensation and if it was legally necessary.
Brown said parking still hasn't been designated for use by tour customers and doesn't want to take away parking from the tavern.
She suggested that people can park near the back entrance going to the pier or, if that is full, park across the street, which is often done for town events.
Bay Runner Tours plans to use the floating dock at the end of the pier as its pick-up and drop-off point, which will give "ample room [at the pier] for more than one boat" at a time.
Town administrator Denise Breder added that the couple plans to have temporary tables and signs to sell tickets, but nothing permanent.
Deal raises questions
Commissioner Michael Dawson, who wasn't at the November meeting when the agreement was first discussed, asked why the company won't use the local, private marina, where the boat is kept, to operate its business.
Both Mayor Jim Eberhardt and Commissioner Ray Ryan said they believe the marina doesn't allow business to be conducted there, but neither knew the specific reason. Eberhardt guessed that parking may be a factor.
Dawson also questioned what kind of tours the business would be running, asking if it was a tour around the river, a water taxi service or used for restaurant tours.
At this point, Bay Runner will take people on tours of the river, Brown said, but at some point may consider a restaurant tour or water taxi service.
"It's an act in the making," she said, "but it does go along with the idea of why we built the pier."
How will the town benefit from the tours if customers are being taken away from Perryville, Dawson asked.
"It brings people in," Commissioner Michelle Linkey answered.
"I hate to admit it, but we don't have a whole lot," Brown added, referring to tourism spots. The tours, however, would make people aware of Perryville and introduce them to what is there.
Ryan agreed the tours will encourage people to take a look around, but it could be a problem if the business offers restaurant tours down the line because it would take customers from Perryville to businesses in other towns.
Dawson asked Susan O'Neill, the town's economic development manager, how Perryville tries to keep people and their business in town, especially from those who use the MARC train every day.
O'Neill suggested that the tour would offer another tourism avenue for the town and while it would take a while for word to get out, the town could potentially develop a reputation for being a hot tourism spot.
She called the tour a "family-friendly activity" that would show people that Perryville has more to offer than just the MARC train station and IKEA.
"It's a good beginning, if you choose to go that path," she said.
"We will build on what we have for people to see," Brown added. "It can't be done overnight, but it will help bring people here."
O'Neill noted that the people who normally take the train and immediately leave the town once arriving at the station may be tempted to stay, if the tours are available.
Ryan suggested finding out how many people who use the MARC station regularly support Perryville's businesses.
The town has several long range plans to lure business, Brown said, including a geocaching trail "trying to bring people back."
"Hopefully business will come," she added.