Ocean City Today

Resort car shows questioned after another H20i debacle

By Katie Tabeling | Dec 28, 2017
Source: File photo It was a packed house during the Nov. 6 council session as car enthusiasts, members of the tourism industry and residents rallied to show support for the car events the City Council considered canceling.

(Dec. 29, 2017) The Ocean City Council called for strategic adjustments to several car shows as the year closed, although the tourism industry vociferously opposed several of its early suggestions.

Cruisin’ Ocean City in May was “the most significant car weekend in anyone’s memory” in terms of traffic and attendees, according to City Manager Doug Miller. That event had 3,300 registered vehicles, but gridlock on the island and population figures indicated the surge of visitors and cars was much greater than that.

It took two and a half hours for a bus to travel the length of the island that weekend. Typically, that trip can be done in an hour in the summer. Diesel trucks and later-model mustangs, unregistered with the event, also rumbled on the roads with excessive exhaust systems.

Ocean City Police recorded 2,041 calls for service from May 18 - 21, and citizens called in 578 of those incidents. There were 53 arrests that weekend, a sharp increase from 40 arrests in 2016. One man died after he was struck by Chevrolet Impala near 45th Street on May 21.

Mayor Rick Meehan suggested moving the spring car event to April. But several business owners and participants argued against that idea, and said lax police enforcement was the problem.

Instead, Special Events Superintendent Frank Miller was directed to create a work group to discuss potential solutions, such as an earlier Cruisin’ date, with promoters Meredith Herbert and Bob Rothermel with Special Event Pro/TEAM Productions.

That work group met twice and suspended activities in August. No decisions were made, although Rothermel pushed for increased police presence.

In the meantime, the Police Commission decided to enforce a long-forgotten ordinance that required business owners to post signs on their properties reminding members of the public that disorderly conduct is illegal.

The measure was adopted in 2015 to ostensibly give police more confidence to address unruly crowds that watched hot rods cruise Coastal Highway and the signs had to be posted on properties this year.

The unsanctioned car show H2O International Volkswagen/Audi rally was canceled earlier this summer, but still caused trouble for law enforcement.

Police responded to 2,735 calls for service, of which 592 were called in by citizens, between Sept. 28 and Oct. 1. Police made 2,302 traffic stops, arrested 78 people and issued 2,020 traffic citations.

One week later, Endless Summer Cruisin’ saw less police activity, with 1,363 calls for service. However, one man died and another man was seriously injured after they were struck by cars.

In November, the Police Commission revealed plans to control, or even eliminate, some motor vehicle events. Other suggestions included closing businesses at 9 p.m., asking Gov. Larry Hogan to put the National Guard on standby, and to create an “event zone” that would triple violator’s fines.

“The Police Commission didn’t haphazardly take this under consideration,” Police Commission member and Councilwoman Mary Knight said during a council session on Nov. 6. “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.”

That night, car show enthusiasts and business owners that packed the council chambers and jeered at the council’s plan. Other business owners asked for a commitment that Cruisin’ Ocean City would honor the three-year contract with promoters and host the event in 2018.

“Sometimes [Cruisin’] is bigger than Memorial Day. To some, it’s bigger than Fourth of July,” Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones 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.”

The council agreed to host Cruisin’ Ocean City at the inlet and convention center lots on May 17-20, 2018. At Councilman John Gehrig’s urging, the council agreed to forgo immediate action and to form a motor vehicle task force.

“I think we have to be realistic about the issues we have to face,” Mayor Rick Meehan said that night.  “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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