Ocean City Today

Car show  plans met with jeers

Angry crowd objects, council steps back
By Katie Tabeling | Nov 09, 2017
Photo by: Katie Tabeling It was a packed house on Monday night, as car enthusiasts, members of the tourism industry and residents rallied to show support for the car events the City Council considered canceling.

(Nov. 10, 2017) Although Ocean City officials committed to holding spring and fall car cruises next year, it’s still unknown whether they have a long-term place in the resort following a City Council meeting marked by catcalls and jeers on Monday night.

Members of the Police Commission told the irate crowd that packed the council chambers that their recommendations, which included eliminating both events at the inlet and the convention center, were for the public good.

“The town has grown up and changed, and we have to [these events] adapt to that change if they’re going to stay. It’s going to be difficult,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “But we all have to be realistic and approach these changes with an open mind — and I mean everyone.”

The commission also ranked motor vehicle events on factors like non-event attendee behavior, roadside crowds, level of law enforcement required and pedestrian endangerment. Cruisin’ Ocean City, Endless Summer Cruisin’ and unsanctioned car show H2O International were determined to be the events with the most problems.

Other recommendations made by the Police Commission during a closed session on Oct. 13 include sending a written request to H2Oi promoter to move the event from Worcester/Wicomico Counties by Dec. 31, creating a “special event zone” with increased fines per state legislation, eliminating the Boardwalk car parade for Cruisin’ Ocean City and Endless Summer Cruisin’, installing speed bumps during H2Oi and expanding the camera surveillance on Coastal Highway.

After word spread about the council’s intent to eliminate the two hallmark Cruisin’ events, the hospitality industry and car enthusiasts flooded the council’s emails and phone lines before attending the meeting.

Bending to the will of the angry crowd, the council backtracked on outright eliminating the spring and fall car events for now, and agreed to discuss those recommendations at a future work session.

The council also unanimously voted to establish a task force to address all motor vehicle events, after Councilman John Gehrig argued against a unilateral decision.

“Solutions on this issue have been discussed for a decade, and whoever sat on this body didn’t do a thing,” Gehrig said. “It’s human nature. When the problems are small, we punt. But when we kick it down the road, it becomes a crisis. The problems are bigger, and the solutions are harder …  We said during strategic planning sessions that we need creative thoughts from all our stakeholders and that we need help.”

Councilwoman Mary Knight, who sits on the Police Commission, pointed out that city officials had seriously considered complaints from residents and business owners when they produced these suggestions.

“The Police Commission didn’t haphazardly take this under consideration,” she said. “I got a call from New York earlier from a nonresident taxpayer, and they say they don’t come in May or October for this reason. That has to change.”

In a rare move, the council then opened the floor to public comments. Of the dozens who spoke, Annemarie Dickerson, owner of the Francis Scott Key Family Resort, only had one question.

“What do I tell all my rooms that are coming in May? I have tons of groups booked for Cruisin’. Can you say it’s safe for 2018?” she said.

Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones pushed the council to not pull the plug on the spring car show, as it draws in thousands of visitors.

“Sometimes [Cruisin’] is bigger than Memorial Day. To some, it’s bigger than Fourth of July,” she said. “We need to remember that we were born a resort town. Hospitality generates $32 million a year … we need to work together, not just for the businesses, but to make the community a better place. We don’t want the recklessness we saw with H2Oi.”

Delmarva Condominium Managers Association President Joe Groves warned the council against canceling events before studying the problems.

“I rented to some people who came for H2Oi, and I asked a group of 16 people why they came down. They said, ‘it pissed me off [that it was canceled] and we want to make them know we’re pissed.’ The last thing we want is to piss people off,” Groves said. “We want them part of the solution.”

Bob Rothermel of TEAM Productions, who organizes Cruisin’ Ocean City with Jack Hennen, said he was willing to “compromise and become part of the solution for a better event.”

“We can’t control the streets, and during debriefing with police, we encourage them to do what they need to do, and to make it work,” he said. “The people who are here for the event are who we want in town. It’s the knuckleheads that cause the problems we have to do something about. It’s become a brand, I think, what makes Ocean City what it is.”

Since the city in 2016 signed a three-year agreement with the event organizers to host the car events, the resort is legally obliged to hold Cruisin’ Ocean City on May 17-20, 2018. Gehrig also made a motion to honor that arrangement, and was backed by Councilman Matt James.

“We’re going to have real solutions. A real solution is not a cancelled event,” Gehrig said. “We just had a cancelled event,” he said referring to the H2Oi debacle earlier this fall. What’s the point?”

“We’ve had crime on the Boardwalk and shots fired last summer, and none of the suggestions were to close down the Boardwalk,” James added. “We have issues, but I don’t think anything needs to be canceled.”

Knight, who was a frequent target of the crowd’s ire, asked Gehrig if the vote could be postponed until next work session. She was shouted down by a group of naysayers.

“It’s very unusual we have a vote with no background information and legal advice,” she said. A chorus of ‘no’s erupted from the crowd. “It’s not a debate. I’ve been extremely respectful … I’m not asking your permission. If that’s the case, I’ll abstain from the vote.”

“Good, see you later,” a small group called back.

The motion to honor the agreement passed 6-0.

Councilman Dennis Dare warned the audience that serious change would be needed to help restore Ocean City’s reputation.

“We’re talking about a couple of events that are affecting our reputation. It’s the tail wagging the dog,” he said. “We’re losing year-round residents, and we need to focus on the big picture. My fear is that with the task force, we’ll be kicking the can down the road. If we’re going to do something, let’s do it with the same passion.”

Meehan said he thought the task force was a tool of progress, not another smokescreen.

“I’ve put them together in the past, and they’ve proven to bring about change,” he said. “I think we have to be realistic about the issues we have to face. If nothing else, we got your attention, and we have to keep it to help decide if [the motor vehicle events] is worth maintaining — and to play our part in its improvement.”

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