Ocean City Today
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Free event value questioned again, fireworks time still TBD

By Greg Ellison | Mar 08, 2018
Photo by: Greg Ellison Bob Rothermel with TEAM Productions provided details about proposed changes to the Boardwalk Beach Lights, while Tourism and Marketing Director Donna Abbott and Special Events Superintendent Frank Miller listen during the City Council meeting on Monday.

(March 9, 2018) During an extended City Council discussion over start times for Beach Fireworks this year, the merit of these free-to-the-public shows was questioned again.

While the council did approve adding an RGB display to the Boardwalk Beach Lights during its meeting on Monday, it failed to reach a consensus on moving the launch time for Beach Fireworks to 10 p.m.

The aerial shows, which take place every Monday and Tuesday after the Fourth of July near the Boardwalk by Dorchester and Caroline streets, were rescheduled to 10:30 last year.

Special Events Superintendent Frank Miller told the council a talk he had with Tourism and Marketing Director Donna Abbott prompted the question of whether offering free family events to the Boardwalk crowd is worth it.

The resort began to focus on providing free activities back in 2012 as an attraction when long-distance travel declined because of the national economic circumstances.

Similar programs are in place at other regional resorts, such as Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach and Atlantic City, Miller said. In addition to a full slate of recurring no charge summer events, Ocean City also sponsors a handful of Halloween-themed happenings and a pair of yuletide celebrations.

Among the changes for this year, Miller said Sundaes in the Park has an earlier start date of June 17, and the OC Beach Dance Party would change to an all DJ format.

“We’re also looking at interlacing the Boardwalk Lights … at the end of the OC Beach Dance Party for about the last 30 minutes,” he said.

This year the rhythm-fueled event begins a week earlier, July 3, and takes place every Tuesday from 7-9 p.m. on the beach at the Caroline Street stage through August.

“Our hope is to create the biggest line dance we’ve ever seen in Ocean City,” he said. “The lights should help create that dance floor experience … to attract as many people off the Boardwalk as we can.”

Councilman Wayne Hartman wondered if the Boardwalk merchants who have complained about the firework displays pulling customers away from stores might have the same reaction to the dance party.

“Is there going to be repercussions if that’s our goal to put people in the sand?” he asked.

Miller didn’t anticipate that a dance party would cause a similar exodus of shoppers.

“Those explosions, as you know, every adult and child will want to see what’s going on when they hear fireworks,” he said. “What we do at Caroline Street stage has never had any negative impact or any type of complaints from storefront owners.”

Hartman asked if business owners were advised of the proposed dance party changes.

“It’s not something we brought before every business owner [but] it’s gone through the Tourism Commission,” he said. “The only thing that’s changing is we’re going to be utilizing the lights and hoping to draw people to the sand.”

Councilwoman Mary Knight said last year the dance party coincided with her volunteer shift at the Boardwalk information booth and the positive mood was palpable.

“There was a lot of movement and there was so much energy,” she said. “You saw kids doing cartwheels.”

When the discussion delved into scheduling fireworks, Miller said a handful of complaints were lodged last year when the start time was pushed back until 10:30 p.m.

Bob Rothermel with TEAM Productions, who puts on the displays, said while he’s fine with either option, others require greater accuracy.

“We can’t fill out a permit to the city or state without a start time,” he said.

Councilman John Gehrig said the timing discussion topic was batted around with no clear resolution during the Tourism Commission meeting in February.

“It was a consensus among the business owners we spoke with that people do leave to watch the fireworks,” he said. “Sometimes they come back, sometimes they don’t.”

Knight said several tourists expressed their displeasure over the later start times at the Boardwalk information booth.

“Tourists with kids said 10:30 was too late,” she said. “Some tourists even wanted it at 9:00, which we wouldn’t do.”

Favoring a return to the 10 p.m. start was Councilman Dennis Dare, who said earlier timeframes for the family activity was conducive to children’s bedtimes.

Backing that assertion was Abbott, who said she consulted with Glenn Irwin, Ocean City Development Corporation executive director, regarding merchants’ sentiments regarding firework start times.

“I asked did he have a sense, because he does interact with the Boardwalk businesses, and he felt 10 was the consensus,” she said.

Dare also said if Boardwalk merchants continue to argue free events are negatively affecting sales, curtailing the offerings should be discussed.

“If they’re concerned that concert line dancing is going to take away business, maybe these events have outlived their life,” he said.

Dare also said the possibility of these changes should be considered when the current two-year $300,000 contract with TEAM Productions ends this December.

Ocean City hired Rothermel’s group to produce firework displays at Northside Park’s Sundaes in the Park and the Beach Fireworks events, as well as Halloween events, including the beach maze, pumpkin races and pet costume parade.

Knight concurred that times may be changing.

“We all know [in 2012] it was a very important time to have free events,” she said. “We’ve all had the conversation that maybe free isn’t as important as it was.”

Although Council President Lloyd Martin supported a motion from Councilman Matt James, which was seconded by Gehrig, to retain the 10:30 fireworks start time and approve changes to value added events, Councilman Tony DeLuca, along with Knight, Dare and Hartman voted in opposition.

Following a suggestion from Mayor Rick Meehan, the council amended its motion to approve the event revisions but revisit the timing issue at a subsequent work session after seeking additional feedback from the Tourism Commission.

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