Ocean City Today

OC businesses also largely opposed to H2Oi

Owners echo concerns of residents, government after raucous weekend car show
By Brian Gilliland | Oct 12, 2017
Photo by: Jason Dunne H2Oi participants without a formal event to attend leaves resort officials wondering what the next step will be.

(Oct. 13, 2017) The common thread of H2Oi participants’ response to the complaints of residents and government is that they spend money supporting local businesses. Many business leaders, however, say it’s a thread they would be willing to cut.

“There’s no doubt it brings a lot of people. People with license plates from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Canada, so does it bring visitors? Yes. Are they visitors we want? No,” Susan Jones, director of the resort’s Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, said this week.

Jones said one of her member restaurants served more meals than usual for this time of year, but then had to alert police two hours later because of burnouts in the parking lot.

“It’s not worth it for more business if you’re spending more on security,” she said.

Macky Stansell, owner of Macky’s on 54th Street, said his business was off by 30 percent from previous years, and blamed the slowdown partially on the traffic congestion experienced throughout the entire island during the weekend.

“It took me an hour and 15 minutes to get from Route 50 to the restaurant. The traffic is bumper-to-bumper with bad driving on top,” he said.

Stansell said he saw drivers taking photos with their phones while in motion on Coastal Highway, and even saw passengers exchanging items with lane-adjacent cars while in motion.

“I’m kind of at a loss what to do, because it’s been my previous experience to ignore the bully and they go away. I don’t think it’s going to help,” he said.

Stansell said he’s read the local reporting on the controversy surrounding the event, but in his opinion it’s a constitutional issue, and he’s not sure what to do.

Neely James, owner of Mother’s Cantina on 28th Street, had a different perspective, but she might argue that point.

“I only see the inside of my restaurant while I’m serving food during the event, so I don’t have a lot of perspective,” she said. “But it’s a really loyal crowd. Business is up for us from last year, and they’re always very respectful.”

For the staff of Mother’s, James said, the weekend is a break from the usual.

“We have much fewer problems than during a normal week,” she said.

But not everyone agrees.

“It started as a few bad apples, but there were a lot of bad apples this year,” Jones said.

And the behavior wasn’t limited to just the restaurants.

“They destroy hotels’ rooms,” Jones said.

Matt James, in addition to being an Ocean City councilman, is a general manager at the Carousel Hotel Group.

“I saw surprisingly little damage, but a lot of behavior you don’t want to see. I’ve never seen people treat employees this way. It’s the perfect example of bad business and I definitely wouldn’t consider us dependent on the group,” he said. “People are lumping all of the events into one but I think it’s a night and day difference between Cruisin’ and H2Oi.”

A general lack of regard for the people who live and work in the resort was evident not only in the general attitude of H2Oi enthusiasts, but their conduct as well.

“It’s frustrating to see them come here and show such complete disrespect — from the taped messages to drivers backing over police officers,” Jones said.

Several vehicles were spotted sporting profane messages scrawled out in brightly colored tape on vehicle doors, windows and side panels during the gathering two weeks ago.

Antonio Ambrosino, 18, of Seaford, Delaware was charged with two counts of attempted murder and numerous other infractions for allegedly intentionally striking a Sheriff’s deputy and an OCPD officer with his car while attempting to evade arrest earlier this month.

There are also iconic businesses that say they get absolutely nothing out of the event — good or bad.

“I wouldn’t say it causes us trouble, but it does absolutely nothing for us. The park gets nothing,” Chris Trimper, of Trimper’s Amusements said. “The families are more focused on Winefest. It’s not my favorite event, and a lot of them can be unpleasant but there’s some great ones too.”

As for possible solutions, this year’s lack of a formal, centralized event presents a challenge for the resort, as there is nothing left to remove, and no mechanism to prevent people from gathering in Ocean City.

Jones, Stansell and Councilman John Gehrig endorsed the idea of shouldering the H2Oi crowd out by scheduling a competing event at the same time next year.

“I think it’ll be part of the solution, but I don’t have too many details yet. I’ve seen this happening over a period of years but now we’re in a situation where we’re almost in emergency mode,” Gehrig said.

Jones was more direct.

“We need to displace them, and find something to replace it. Will it happen next year? Probably not, but we have to fill the rooms,” she said. “They all book at the last minute anyway.”

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