OCEAN CITY – Despite growing support from some sectors and a passionate presentation of the Boathenge project Tuesday, the concept barely passed the scrutiny of the City Council, sliding through in a 4-3 vote to forward the project to the Army Corps of Engineers for further consideration.
Joe Kroart III, owner of the Ocean Gallery on the Boardwalk, came before the council at Tuesday’s work session to present his pet project, Boathenge, which Kroart hopes will attract public relations and marketing attention and ultimately more people to the town.
The idea was inspired by Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument located in England, and also by Carhenge, the more recent monument located in Nebraska. Carhenge has brought over 80,000 people to its remote location in Nebraska and has received a mass of public relations, a result that Kroart hopes to achieve with Boathenge.
“It’s about making people think and talk about Ocean City,” Kroart said of the overall goal of Boathenge.
Kroart referred to the attempts from the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant-Association to obtain more money for tourism, referring specifically to the “tourism battle” that the town is currently in. “There’s a need to be creative,” he emphasized, explaining that with the current lack of funding for tourism, creativity and “out of the box” thinking will be mandatory in bringing more tourism to the area.
Kroart pointed out that it’s not only the numbers that are showing a slump in tourism, it’s the qualitative analysis as well. Kroart explained that a look around the town during the middle of the week is proof enough that something needs to be done. Enter the Boathenge project.
Boathenge is slated to be located between First and 2nd streets, 125 feet from the Boardwalk and 100 feet north of the northern limit of First Street. According to Kroart, this is the only viable location for the boat monument. Any location north of
4th Street would place the boats too close to the water. The volleyball nets, concerts, standing beach toys and other activities and structures leave 2nd Street as the prime location south of 4th Street.
The circle of used boats, buried half in the sand and anchored in case of a storm, will be enclosed by fencing. The fence, along with signs warning of the potential injuries that could occur from climbing on the structure, will keep onlookers and visitors safe.
Kroart explained that the cost of the project would be minimal with the boats coming via donation and much of the construction and upkeep provided through volunteers.
“It’s the cheapest town project proposed in a very long time,” Kroart said.
The costs for the town include the fence, paint and general upkeep. There are also future or potential costs that include wintertime removal and storage, lights to illuminate the structure at night and a temporary Boardwalk walkway to the structure.
The objective of Boathenge is to bring positive attention to the town, and hopefully bring more business along with it. Kroart explained that he wants to see more restaurants with a wait out front and more hotel rooms filled.
“We’ve already won either way,” Kroart said.
Kroart explained that whether you put the boats on the beach or not, publicity will follow.
Kroart presented the council with a board, crammed with numerous articles and media attention that the Boathenge project has already generated. Kroart explained that no matter what the outcome, the media attention and public relations will follow, free of charge. For Kroart, Boathenge is already a success.
Councilwoman Nancy Howard voiced specific concern over the fencing.
“If it’s on the beach, I think it should be available for the tourists to touch,” she said, adding that the appeal of the beach toys on 3rd and 4th streets is that they are interactive. Providing the public with a structure that they cannot interact with is a condition that Howard could not get on board with. She did, however, show support for the concept.
“I agree with everything you said about the need to draw good attention to Ocean City,” she said.
Councilwoman Mary Knight showed support for the creative thinking but little backing of the project.
“I have to thank you for your out of the box thinking,” Knight said.
Knight voiced concern for the visuals of the project and its overall presence.
“A lot of people are skeptical about the aesthetics,” Knight explained.
According to Knight, there is concern that the boats will not provide enough visual appeal to make the project a success.
“I’m kind of leaning against this at this point,” she said.
The council voted four in favor and three in opposition to forward the project to the Army Corps of Engineers for consideration. Councilmen Lloyd Martin and Joseph Mitrecic and Knight were in opposition.
Despite the narrow success and lukewarm response from the council, Kroart is still optimistic.
“On behalf of my family, I would like to say that we are ecstatic that the council has recognized the merits and benefits of the Boathenge project to the town of Ocean City,” Kroart said after the work session. “We have heard a couple people say that they doubt Boathenge would make people come to Ocean City … The important thing is that whether that person does or does not visit Ocean City to see Boathenge, the person in question is still thinking about our town.”