OCEAN CITY – The pros and cons were debated this week on a new event, “OC Jam”, to replace the Harley-Davidson location during 2011’s Delmarva Bike Week.
The proposed Bike Week dates are Sept. 15-18. The event that consists of motorcycle accessory vendors, motorcycle apparel, musical entertainment, children’s activities, food and beverages, beer, and even stunt areas such as the Wall of Death and the Ball of Steel is expected to gather over 20,000 participants each day.
In the past, Delmarva Bike Week’s ground zero was located at the Harley-Davidson dealership on Route 50 in Berlin. The dealership closed last fall to consolidate the operation with a sister dealership in Seaford, due to economic hardships.
The newly interested organizer of the bike week’s main event, Clifford H. Sutherland, proposed to use the downtown Inlet Parking Lot for the event’s main location.
Sutherland is one of the founding members and president of the Wild and Wonderful MountainFest motorcycle rally and also organizes JamFest in Morgantown, W. Va. MountainFest is a non-profit event. It has donated over $400,000 to charities.
In a letter of recommendation the Morgantown Mayor Bill Byrne said Sutherland’s operations are always extremely well organized and professionally executed.
“His events have brought hundreds of thousands of new visitors who get to experience our great community,” Byrne wrote. “These events have taken place with no serious disturbances.”
Although Sutherland has excellent references, Ocean City officials have concerns over multiple items included in his proposal, the most significant being the event will take place in the same location and so closely in time to Sunfest, which will be held Sept. 22-25.
“We have had multiple meetings with Cliff [Sutherland] and his crew,” Public Works Director Hal Adkins said. “Logistically could Bike Week 2011 be accommodated on Sunfest, yes it could.”
According to Adkins, in order to set up Sunfest early to accommodate the “OC Jam” event, it would require a “push up”. The Inlet lot would have to begin set up on Aug. 29 in order to be available for Bike Week. The set up for Sunfest doesn’t usually start until the week after Labor Day. This would cause parking in the lot to be eliminated for the most part during Labor Day weekend, which would result in a projected loss of $83,000 in revenue.
Due to the fact that the Public Works Department has been “right sized” in recent years, it’s dealing with lowest amount of employees than ever before. It will be challenging to turn the Inlet lot location over in time for Sunfest.
“You’re throwing a curve ball here,” Adkins said. “Keep in mind there will be overtime involved here.”
Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster summarized additional costs to the town hosting this event.
In order to set up the tents early, the loss of revenue from the parking lot, and the increase in labor will cost the town an additional $134,000 on top of what the public works, recreation and parks and public safety departments would have already been spending.
Shuster is also concerned that hosting “OC Jam” in the Inlet lot may jeopardize preparations of Sunfest, which has been projected to have an economic impact of more than $5.5 million in sales.
On top of the Recreation and Parks and Public Works departments concerns regarding Sunfest, the Mayor and City Council had their own.
Mayor Rick Meehan voiced concern over who the events sponsors were going to be. Sutherland stated that he and his team had not yet worked out those details since they had not received approval from the town. The mayor pointed out that the Ocean City community has limitations on sponsorship, and Sutherland was not aware of those circumstances.
“This is a big event that actually takes place across two counties and in Delaware,” Meehan said.
He asked Sutherland what other locations would be involved in order to keep it a tri-county event.
Sutherland only knew of one other location in Salisbury that the event will be extended too. They had looked into other locations such as Perdue Stadium, Ocean Downs or the Ocean City Convention Center but have been unable to bring those locations on board.
“What we’re not trying to do is bring a lot more people to Ocean City. We want to make sure there’s heads in beds…and we keep them here. We can’t make it that big, the Inlet cannot handle any more than what we’re proposing,” he said.
Included in Sutherland’s proposal of taking over the rights to Delmarva’s Bike Week, he requested the city consider allowing “OC Jam” to be the only motorcycle rally allowed in town.
Councilwoman Mary Knight asked if that is legal. City Solicitor Guy Ayres recommended the council not agree to that.
Councilman Joe Hall asked the department heads if there were any benefits to Sutherland’s proposal.
“Bringing Bike Week onto town property could have some kind of incremental positive impact on the town itself, provided that the capacity exists in town.” Shuster said.
Joe Hall asserted that there is a pro in that in the past there was no event of this kind held “on island”, and Ocean City had become the “bedroom community.” Because bikers had spent most of their time off the island during the day, most of their money was spent off the island as well, according to Joe Hall.
Shuster responded that this is a riding event. So whether the event is held on town property or not, “they are going to ride.”
Meehan asserted that the additional cost of $134,000 the city would have to allocate in order to host “OC Jam” would have to be reimbursed upon agreement.
“We do have a threshold, and at that threshold it is very difficult,” Sutherland said. “I hope the city would look at what we can do as a partner. What does it mean to work with people that have experience and are professional…to make it work verses the present situation.”
Councilman Lloyd Martin said he had hard time gambling between the weather and the event being so close to Sunfest.
“I don’t think people just want to ride up and down Coastal Highway,” he said.
Martin felt that by expanding events throughout Delmarva it provides more space for the motorcycles to travel and alleviates the noise caused by the bikes as well as traffic congestion within town.
Joe Hall made a motion for Sutherland to review the council’s concerns and return next week in a special work session to discuss solutions and the agreement will be contingent upon financial terms. Knight seconded Hall’s motion and the council voted 6-1, with Councilman Jim Hall opposed.